Inside This Issue - News
Help for food deserts
August 1st, 2011
WASHINGTON – Walmart, Walgreen Co. and Supervalu Inc. have promised to open or expand a combined more than 1,500 stores in underserved communities over the next five years, in a bid to reduce the number of “food deserts” where people have trouble finding healthy food that is affordable.
Executives from the three retail chains appeared with first lady Michelle Obama at the White House on July 20, where they made their store opening pledges to the Partnership for a Healthier America.
An estimated 23.5 million Americans — including 6.5 million children — live in food deserts, which the Department of Agriculture defines as low-income areas where more than 500 people (or 33% of the population) live more than a mile in urban neighborhoods, or more than 10 miles in rural areas, from an affordable food store.
People in food deserts tend to rely on fast-food restaurants or convenience stores for their meals. Research suggests that people living in food deserts face a significantly higher risk of suffering from obesity, diabetes and cancer. The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity has made eliminating food deserts a key objective.
Walmart said it will open between 275 and 300 stores in food deserts (as defined by the Department of Agriculture) between now and 2016.
"By opening stores where customers need them most, Walmart will help build healthier families and stronger communities," said executive vice president of corporate affairs Leslie Dach.
Supervalu promised to open 250 new Save-A-Lot stores in food deserts over the same five-year period.
"We applaud the work the first lady and the Partnership for a Healthier America are doing to raise awareness and address the issue of childhood obesity, and we are honored to be part of the solution," said Supervalu president and chief executive officer Craig Herkert. "Through our Save-A-Lot format we can help bring the healthier, high-quality food options and value pricing currently needed to many communities across America."
Walgreens president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson said his company would convert or open at least 1,000 food desert stores over the next five years.
"With more than 45% of our stores located in areas that don’t have access to fresh food, Walgreens is uniquely positioned to bring more food options to Americans and also provide pharmacy, health and wellness services directly in those communities," Wasson said.
The stores announced by the three retailers should reach about 9.5 million people currently living in food deserts, the executives said.
Walmart’s Dach pointed out that the nation’s food deserts are often also job deserts, and he added that the outlets the retailer has pledged to open will employ more than 40,000 full- or part-time associates.
Walmart has opened 218 stores in food deserts since 2007, Dach said. The pledged stores will bring that total to about 500, which together will serve about 1.3 million people.
Walgreens began addressing the issue of food deserts last year, when it opened 10 “food oasis” stores in Chicago neighborhoods identified as food deserts. Those stores increased their food assortments by as much as 60%, providing a wider variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and other healthy meal components to help address residents’ need for greater access to affordable, nutritious food.
A report by the Food Marketing Institute detailed some of the challenges retailers can face in opening supermarkets in underserved areas. Obstacles to such development include potential customer bases too small to support a large store, coupled with the high investment and operating costs associated with such outlets.
Economic incentives and grants and the support of local government can help retailers overcome such obstacles, the report states. Innovation on the part of the retailers also can be part of the solution. In particular, smaller store formats, which have lower operating costs, can be a good fit in many underserved communities, the report says.