Corner stores to promote fresh food

The city of Minneapolis created a program to help stores redesign their layouts.

Urmila Ramakrishnan

For many people on a budget, fresh and healthy foods are hard to find.
The city of Minneapolis hopes to make that less of a problem this fall with a program to help corner stores redesign their layouts and marketing to promote fresh produce.
Convenience stores like West Bank Grocery and VitaLife Rx Pharmacy will have fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods within a few weeks thanks to the Healthy Corner Store Program. The program focuses on low-income communities âÄî North and South Minneapolis, the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, the Philips area and the Seward area âÄî where residents are less likely to go to full-fledged grocery stores.
The program is âÄúa strategy to bring healthy foods into our low-income communities,âÄù said Aliyah Ali, the head program developer of the program.
Obesity and low-income status are linked, Ali said, because low-income areas have more fast food restaurants, and âÄúitâÄôs easier if youâÄôre working one, two or three jobs to get your family a pizza for five bucksâÄù than to get to a grocery store.
Ali said the highest racial health disparities are among the urban-Indian, black and Latino communities.
Multiple University of Minnesota studies have shown  predominately black communities have fewer supermarkets.
The research team called communities like these âÄúfood deserts.âÄù
VitaLife Rx Pharmacy in Northwest Minneapolis had its redesign kickoff last week, store manager Melissa Picult said.
âÄúThe problem with this neighborhood is people come in to buy soda and chips for the most part,âÄù Picult said.
The West Bank Grocery store, on Cedar Avenue near the University campus, will have a similar setup come December, Ali said.
Participating stores agree to sell a minimum amount of fresh produce in exchange for help from the city with layout, marketing and training for pricing and stocking the foods.
The program strives to make fresh foods more visible, she said.
âÄú[The] idea behind this program is: How can we work with existing infrastructure to bring healthier foods within the community?âÄù she said. âÄúAnd since we have such a huge existing base of corner stores, it was just a natural fit.âÄù
âÄúItâÄôs going to be a slow process, I think, of just getting âĦ the rest of the community involved and letting them know that itâÄôs here.âÄù she said.
By also having discounted deals on healthy featured foods, the program will provide a domino effect in getting the community eating healthier, Picult said.
âÄúWeâÄôve been here about two years now,âÄù she said of the store. âÄúWe see these kids come in with their parents, and their parents let them buy bags of chips and a soda like around dinner time and they talk about going to McDonaldâÄôs.âÄù
The program caters to stores like Cedar-RiversideâÄôs West Bank Grocery where these cultures that are predominant. Ali said that having these stores would help combat obesity and reduce chronic illness with the higher availability of fresh produce.
The Corner Store Program was first approved in April after a study showed the little produce stores had was often displayed in plain sight.