Are You Ready?

Communities and policymakers across the country are implementing innovative programs and strategies to improve access to healthy food in underserved communities.

Are you starting to think about a project or policy effort in your community? If so, check out these assessment tools to help you think about how to influence public policy, plan your retrail strategy, and fund your work. 

Additional resources and assessment tools to help you begin include:

 

Influencing Public Policy

The following series of questions will serve as a guide as you think about initiating healthy food access policy efforts in your community.

 

What is the geographic scope of your effort?

Begin your initiative by identifying the geographic scope of your project: Are you targeting change for the state, city, or a municipality?

 

Have you thought about data to support your effort?

Data are essential tools to making the case for your policy effort. Start by identifying the need in your region. Reach out to partners in the academic and research communities to help facilitate this data collection and presentation. Public and proprietary health data and supermarket and demographic data can also be collected or purchased from a variety of sources.
 

 

Have you identified key stakeholders and community leaders?

Involve key stakeholders from diverse sectors when advocating healthy food access policies to capture policymaker attention and ensure relevant sectors are properly engaged in the process.  Key stakeholders and members of task forces may include food access organization representatives, supermarket industry leaders, government and policy leaders, financial sector representatives, community development leaders, public health leaders, children’s advocates, and community organizers and leaders.
 

The following Community Engagement Resource Guides are helpful for thinking about how to engage your community:
 

 

​What is your messaging strategy to attract stakeholder support?

Maps, data, and storytelling are most effective when they are used to build a clear and compelling story about the local food environment. Communications strategies can bolster support for your work and raise awareness in the media and government communities. 


What is the timeline for your effort?

Depending on the degree of change you are trying to achieve, policy efforts can take varying amounts of time and energy. To achieve a statewide response to the issue, you’ll need to plan for time to engage stakeholders, develop recommendations, and educate policymakers. Local policies may require shorter time periods.
 

Have you identified different measurements for success at different stages of the process?

Identifying keys goals and deliverables at every stage of the process can help ensure your policy efforts remain on track to succeed. For example, your first goal might be listing all key stakeholders in your region as a step toward the final goal of achieving policy change at the state level.


Resources to Consult

The following resources will serve as a starting guide as you think about initiating healthy food access policy efforts in your community. 
 

 

Planning Your Retail Strategy

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.  
     

 

Funding Your Work

Today more grant, loan, and incentive opportunities exist than ever before to help you build, renovate, or plan for healthy food projects in your community. Some funds are specifically dedicated to funding projects that improve access to healthy foods, while other resources require you to make the case that your project meets the funder’s objectives. Below are a series of questions that you are likely to be asked when seeking healthy food financing funds, or other grants, loans, and incentives for your project.
 

  • Is the project located in an underserved community? If you are unsure, see how underserved communities are defined or map your community using the Limited Supermarket Access (LSA) tool.
  • Is the project located in any of the following: a low-income community, a community with high unemployment, or is it a medically underserved area? This may qualify your project for certain types of funding.
  • Do you have a business plan, market study, or feasibility analysis that sets out financial details of your project? If not, extensive resources are available on how to write a business plan, including the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) website. Locate and visit one of SBA’s Small Business Development Centers. These centers provide a variety of technical assistance services to small businesses, nonprofits, and aspiring entrepreneurs.
  • Have you thought about the characteristics of potential customers within the target area by race, age, ethnicity, and income levels? Demographic data can show a potential funder that your project will help economically disadvantaged communities or vulnerable populations. To identify these customer characteristics for your market area, go to PolicyMap.com.
  • Do you have experience bringing healthy food options to underserved communities?  If not, you may want to bring in an experienced operator, developer, or manager.
  • Do you have plans to put any money of your own into the business or project? It helps to show a potential funder that you have “skin in the game.”
  • Do you have any fundraising or financing plans or commitments in place to pay for some portion of the project? In most cases, several different grants, loans, or other financial incentives will need to be combined to finance your project successfully.
  • Do you have local community, business, and/or government support? To learn how to build and gather support, go to Policy Efforts & Impacts.
  • If you have identified a potential site for your project, do you have a lease, option to buy, or agreement of sale? Many lenders want to see evidence of site control before they will make a loan or invest in your project.
  • Does you project face any challenges, such as zoning, building permits, licensing approvals, soil contamination, or community opposition? These obstacles can delay implementation and impact your ability to get funding.
     


Resources to Consult

Several general guides describe potential funding sources for healthy food retail.