Minneapolis expands mobile grocery stores

Revisions to city code will allow the stores to sell more types of food in more places.

Nicholas Studenski

Mobile grocery stores could soon provide an oasis for food deserts in parts of Minneapolis.

The City Council voted last Friday to expand an ordinance allowing mobile grocery stores in Minneapolis to sell a wider variety of foods, including fresh produce, in more areas than previously allowed.

While it takes time and money to construct brick-and-mortar stores in developing neighborhoods or areas lacking access to full grocery stores, the mobile markets could offer a cheaper, quicker and more versatile alternative, said Gayle Prest, the city’s sustainability director.

Prest said the goal of the markets is twofold: make healthy food available in areas without grocery stores and support local farms.

The old ordinance only allowed mobile markets to sell prepackaged foods, but the modified one requires that they carry at least seven varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables and only certain types of prepackaged foods. They may also carry some non-food items under the code changes, but the sale of alcohol and tobacco products is restricted.

New changes to the ordinance allow mobile markets to set up in some parking lots of commercial, industrial and high-density residential neighborhoods.

Previously, the mobile stores, called groceterias, were limited to parking lots of senior housing complexes. Prest said no such markets currently exist at those locations.

In expanding its previous mobile market ordinance, Minneapolis follows the lead of cities like Chicago, Portland, Ore., and St. Paul where the stores are already in operation.

And though there are no current plans to bring a mobile grocery market to the University of Minnesota area, plans may develop soon said Cam Gordon, the ordinance’s author and Ward 2 councilman.

Evelina Knodel, president of student group U Students Like Good Food, said she’s surprised at the lack of grocery stores in the area. She thinks a mobile market would be a huge success.

“Students would be all over it,” she said.

Knodel said she does her grocery shopping in the Seward neighborhood, 25 minutes away by bus.

Because there are few grocery stores near campus, Knodel said many students rely on corner stores like CVS Pharmacy, where she said the selection of fresh and staple food items is poor.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies parts of Minneapolis as food deserts, which are areas where supermarkets are scarce and fast food restaurants or convenience stores are the only sources of nutrition.

Two organizations, Urban Ventures and the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, have already expressed interest to city leaders in establishing mobile grocery stores in Minneapolis. The Wilder Foundation recently purchased a retired Metro Transit bus that it has converted into a mobile market.