As you begin to think about developing healthy food retail in your community, you will want to explore various healthy food retail strategies to determine which type will best serve the needs of your community. You may want to consider factors such as available land, time, funding, and customer base. This assessment tool will serve as a guide to help you start to evaluate your capacity and determine the most appropriate retail strategy for your community. For more in-depth information about different retail strategies, go to the Retail Strategy section of this portal, which describes in detail different retail efforts, ranging from grocery stores and farmers" markets to food hubs, co-ops, and mobile markets. This section also has information on how to best market healthy products in food retail outlets.
How much land do you have available?
Your retail strategy should be tailored to the space you have available. The average supermarket is 44,000 square feet and often requires parking lots. Because supermarkets need to move large quantities of merchandise to turn a profit, they typically serve areas that are much larger than one neighborhood and require sites that can be difficult to assemble in dense, urban areas. While supermarkets are a great solution for some areas, not every community, including many rural communities, has the capacity to support this type of food retailing model. Other viable options include small-scale grocery stores that can provide a variety of healthy foods that are high in quality and similar in price to supermarkets while relying on a smaller customer base and fitting into smaller spaces. A farmers' market is also an option that doesn't require a lot of land and can be set up in a parking lot or blocked-off street. Alternative retail strategies requiring less land (or no new land) include improving an existing corner store or establishing a mobile market or small co-op.
Have you thought about the amount of start-up time you are able to support?
Your timeline will vary depending on the size and scope of the project you take on, and planning appropriately will help your effort be successful. A new grocery store may take substantial time because land must be identified and purchased, grocers must do research to confirm that the area can support a store, and regulatory processes like zoning and sometimes consolidating ownership of multiple land parcels can take years. If you have a limited amount of time for start-up, consider encouraging a neighborhood store to increase shelf space for fresh produce. Document the unmet demand; subsidize the additional costs; and provide managers with tips to help them buy, sell, and display produce. You can also quickly increase access to healthy foods and make the case for creating more healthy food retail in your community by creating and sustaining a farmers' market or developing community supported agriculture (CSA) options.
Have you identified the amount of start-up funding you have available?
Implementing any kind of healthy food retail involves start-up costs. Planning and budgeting appropriately will ensure a successful start to your business.
Depending on the type of retail strategy you choose, a reasonable first-year budget can range from $1,500 to more than $1 million. Supermarkets represent a long-term community investment, bring quality jobs to communities, and can help attract other stores to invest in a community. Renovating or building a corner store, creating a farmers' market, or starting a CSA are other options, and they have similar community benefits. Using local community resources such as renting existing space, obtaining donated equipment, or organizing volunteers can help keep costs down. Start-up funding may also be available through Healthy Food Financing Funds.
To explore these potential funding opportunities, go to the funding database on the portal.
Have you thought about training available retailers?
Selling produce has risks — because produce spoils quickly, it must be sold quickly. Experience is required to understand the complexities of managing a produce section. While retailers in some communities may welcome the opportunity to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to their products offered, they may be unfamiliar with how to source, price, handle, display, and stock fresh fruits and vegetables, and may lack needed refrigeration or shelf space to adequately support these new products. Engaging an experienced produce manager in your project is one way to ensure a successful outcome. Alternatively, targeted technical assistance programs can help retailers effectively manage their produce. Local economic development and health departments may be able to support these efforts.
For a comprehensive overview of how to support smaller stores in increasing healthy foods, including produce, in their stores, go to the Corner Stores section of the portal.
Have you identified possible partnerships?
Engaging people from a variety of sectors with a shared goal of making healthy, affordable food available can help leverage additional resources and support to bring your project to completion. Most successful efforts to create new healthy food options involve persons and organizations with different skill sets joining together around a common goal. Leaders from the fields of economic development, public health, government, finance, and grocery or other fresh food retail operators can all provide valuable voices in moving your project forward. Community organizations can also be important partners in developing healthy food retail. They can help stores identify and train employees, and their involvement can increase community acceptance and contribute to improved store security. For more information on engaging partners in the development of your fresh food retail project, go to The Food Trust's Healthy Food Financing Handbook.
Can you involve and grow the customer base in your community that will buy healthy food?
Involving the community throughout the process is essential to creating and sustaining a customer base for healthy foods and ensuring the success of a business. By engaging local residents, you can ensure their preferences are being met. Hiring from within the community also provides a sense of community ownership and loyalty. In addition, retailers should develop relationships with local suppliers, enabling them to better meet consumers' needs. Showing a retailer that a substantial base of customers exists for healthy food will help them move forward with confidence that the investment will be profitable. Similarly, when establishing a farmers' market, it is important to show potential vendors that their sales will be worth the vendors' time and transportation costs. For more best practices, visit the Healthy Food Marketing section of the portal, and listen to our Engaging Community Partners to Support Healthy Food Retail Webinar.
How can local governments help?
Local governments can help grocery developers and retailers navigate through the planning and zoning process by, offering incentives such as relaxed parking requirements. They can also set up a one-stop shop to expedite permitting and licensing processes, which traditionally add time to the food retail development process. To secure land for new grocery stores, cities can reclaim vacant and abandoned properties. Grocery stores can also sometimes reconfigure their operations to squeeze into smaller spaces. For more information on government incentives and support for fresh food retail projects, go to the Funding section of this portal, which describes incentives offered by state and local governments.
Other Key Resources
Healthy Food Financing Handbook — This resource by The Food Trust and The Reinvestment Fund, lays out a step-by-step approach to developing and implementing state and local policies that encourage the development of supermarkets and other healthy food stores in underserved communities.
Healthy Food, Healthy Communities: Promising Strategies to Improve Access to Fresh, Healthy Food and Transform Communities —This PolicyLink report describes promising strategies and provides case studies to demonstrate the economic development and health benefits of introducing a healthy food retailer.
Grocery Store Development Tool — The online resource provided by PolicyLink highlights a number of innovative strategies to help you address food access challenges in your community. It also provides guidance for attracting food retail into underserved communities.
Grocery Store Attraction Strategies: A Resource Guide for Community Activists and Local Governments — This PolicyLink report provides nuts and bolts resources to help communities organize a coordinated strategy for grocery store attraction.
Healthy Corner Stores Network — This organization supports efforts to increase the availability and sales of healthy, affordable foods through small-scale stores in underserved communities. The website contains an extensive resource library and forum for questions and discussion.
Food Co-op Initiative's Starting a New Buying Club — This resource page contains informative webinars and links to recommended resources.
Farmers Market Coalition — This nonprofit is dedicated to strengthening farmers' markets across the United States so that markets community assets and provide real income opportunities for farmers. The website contains tools, webinars, and reports.
Regional Food Hub Resource Guide — The U.S. Department of Agriculture's guide on food hubs includes research, resources, and case studies.
Retail Fruit and Vegetable Marketing Guide — This guide from the Network for a Healthy California–Retail Program serves as a resource for independent retailers who want information on how to merchandise and promote their selection of fresh produce. It also includes a section written for community-based organizations interested in providing hands-on technical assistance to retailers making improvements to their fresh produce selection.
PolicyMap — The Reinvestment Fund's interactive website offers data related to demographics, health, and real estate, and can be used to understand the retail needs of your neighborhood and community. For additional information, go to the Limited Supermarket Access (LSA ) and PolicyMap Primer.
Metrics for Healthy Communities: Fresh Produce Access — Designed with cross-sector collaboration in mind, this website offers tools to help you get started in planning for and measuring the impact of initiatives funded and developed to improve community health and well-being, including a template logic model for healthy food access efforts. These tools can help define goals, identify appropriate measures to inform progress over time, and use available data.