Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Policy name: Healthy Corner Store Initiative
Location: Pennsylvania and New Jersey
- Pennsylvania population: 12.79 million
- New Jersey population: 8.94 million
Food policy category: Food supply & distribution
- Increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthier choices in lower-income communities, where small convenience stores are often the closest food source for residents
- Encourage residents to purchase more fruits and vegetables from participating stores
- Expand the role of corner stores as spaces for community outreach and health education
- Contribute to long-term community health
- The Food Trust, a Philadelphia nonprofit that aims to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food and information to make healthy decisions, started the Healthy Corner Store Initiative as a pilot program in 2004.
- In 2010, the Initiative became a part of Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Get Healthy Philly initiative and began expanding rapidly throughout Philadelphia. In addition, The Food Trust began piloting its Heart Smarts program, which combines food access with nutrition education in stores.
- In 2011, The Food Trust expanded the program to Camden, New Jersey, as part of the Campbell’s Healthy Communities program.
- In 2013, five stores became part of the Fresh Corner Store Conversion program in Philadelphia, where significant resources were invested in stores to provide exterior improvements including new awnings and the installation of a refrigerated kiosk within the store to provide infrastructure for selling more fresh fruits and vegetables.
- In 2014, through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health, the program expanded to 11 other cities across Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Erie, Dansville, State College, Williamsport, Reading, Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Harrisburg and Lancaster.
- In 2014, the initiative expanded statewide in New Jersey, in partnership with the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids, with a focus on five cities: Camden, Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton and Vineland.
- In 2016, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative launched in Wilmington, Delaware, through a partnership with Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware Department of Agriculture and Kresge Foundation.
- As of 2017, 700 stores are actively participating in the Healthy Corner Store Initiative throughout the tristate area.
- Additionally, The Food Trust provides consulting services around healthy retail strategy and programming to help dozens of public and private organizations promote good nutrition and increase access to nutritious foods throughout the country.
How it works
Stores that participate in the Healthy Corner Store Initiative are generally less than 2,000 square feet, have four aisles or less, and are located in neighborhoods that have the highest poverty rates.
In the traditional model, stores are moved through four phases of change:
In Phase 1, stores introduce four new healthy products in at least two of five categories: fresh fruits and vegetables, other fruits and vegetables (canned, frozen, dried), low-fat dairy, lean protein and whole grains.
Fresh fruits and vegetables must be whole and unprocessed. Other fruits and vegetables can be packaged, canned or frozen. Canned vegetables must have less than 230 mg of sodium per serving. One hundred percent fruit juice is permitted in this category in single-serving sizes (under 8oz) whenever possible.
Phase 2 requires store owners to display marketing materials that guide customers to choose healthier foods. The Healthy Corner Store Initiative provides pre-made materials, written in multiple languages, which are placed on shelves, refrigerators and the store exterior.
Once a store implements Phases 1 and 2, they receive a check for $100 for the first two years they participate and maintain healthy inventory requirements.
Phase 3 of the program is free business training. Store owners are trained on how to sell healthy food in a way that is profitable for them via the Sell Healthy! Guide. Trainings include best practices for sourcing healthy products, setting prices for those products and displaying them in the store. If a store completes Phases 1 through 3, it may be eligible for Phase 4.
Phase 4 is the Healthy Corner Store Conversion, which provides stores with varying infrastructure changes such as free shelving, baskets or refrigeration, allowing them to more effectively stock and sell healthy products.
Phase 5 is the implementation of Heart Smarts programming. Heart Smarts provides in-store nutrition education lessons to customers in stores, focusing on low-cost, healthy recipes that utilize ingredients found in the store. In addition, some Heart Smarts stores feature monthly health screenings for customers, including blood pressure and BMI checks conducted by local health care partners.
Progress to date
In order to enhance impact within stores and at the community level, The Food Trust is currently focusing intensively on a subset of 350 participating healthy corner stores in Philadelphia. These stores are predominantly located in three core lower-income communities that are most affected by health disparities. These three communities also receive other components of The Food Trust’s comprehensive approach for improving food environments: teaching nutrition education in schools, community and places where people shop; helping customers make healthier choices; managing farmers markets in communities that lack access to affordable produce; and encouraging grocery store development in underserved communities.
A growing component of the Healthy Corner Store Initiative is The Food Trust’s Heart Smarts program, a new model that combines food access with nutrition education as well as health and social services for all customers, free of charge. The Heart Smarts program provides enhanced programming in the corner store space that can include nutrition education, recipe tasting, health screenings and healthy food incentive coupons called “Heart Bucks.” Heart Smarts empowers lower-income individuals to improve their health and reduce their risk of diet-related disease through nutrition education, health screenings and counseling in a supportive store environment, where customers are encouraged to conveniently buy healthy, affordable food. The Heart Smarts model can link primary care to public health with a focus on community; The Food Trust and health care partners currently provide in-store nutrition education in 60 stores in the tristate area and health screenings in 13 stores across Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ. The Food Trust is exploring additional community–clinical linkages that can be made between corner stores and community partners in order to continue to expand the reach of corner stores as healthy community hubs.
Why the program is important
Studies have shown that rates of obesity and diabetes tend to be higher in areas where access to fresh produce is lower, and where poverty rates are higher. Researchers have also found that consuming more fruits and vegetables can combat obesity.
Many states and cities have launched initiatives to encourage supermarkets to move into “food deserts,” where access to fresh produce is low. This is not always an option in high-density urban or rural neighborhoods due to barriers such as space, cost, or inability to attract grocers. An alternative solution may be increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables sold at stores that are already located in those areas: convenience stores.
A Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Initiative study found that the program significantly increased access to fruits, vegetables and low-fat milk in participating stores. The most significant increases occurred in stores that received refrigeration and shelving.
The Food Trust collected data on how many fruits and vegetables were being sold in two stores participating in the Fresh Corner Store Conversion program, started in 2013. They found that produce sales increased over 60 percent after the stores installed kiosks that featured fresh fruits and vegetables most prominently in the store.
Data from one Heart Smarts store showed that produce sales more than doubled on programming days, compared to non-programming days. Sales results were validated by Heart Smarts educator observations, which found that fruits and vegetables were the most common items purchased with Heart Bucks (40% of participants).
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