- The Salvation Army will open its first grocery store Wednesday in a Baltimore food desert, according to an article on The Shelby Report.
- The store, which will offer the same conveniences of a traditional grocer, will be named DMG Foods, branding that centers on the nonprofit's motto: "Doing the Most Good." The 7,000-square-foot warehouse will also offer social services, like workforce development and nutritional guidance.
- If this model is a success, the Salvation Army plans to operate similar stores in food deserts nationwide.
In the past when supermarkets moved into underserved communities, access to produce and lean meat didn't necessarily translate into healthier purchases. A study from 2014 tracked fruit and vegetable consumption in a Philadelphia community after a supermarket was built there. Researchers found while residents' agreed they had better access to fresh foods, there wasn't an increase in consumption of these items.
DMG Foods is positioning itself to help bridge the gap by providing information to encourage shoppers to make better choices, as well as suggestions of how to incorporate these items into their diet.
By offering other social services like workforce development, DMG Foods could become a grocery store-community center hybrid. The supermarket will offer a program that teaches retail soft skills and hands-on grocery apprenticeship, which could help further establish it as preferred retailer.
The greatest challenge DMG Foods may face could be to get its customers to take advantage of the many programs they’re offering. Just like in Philadelphia, Baltimore residents may be resistant to changing their diets, no matter how convenient it is to eat better.
Just getting customers in the door could also be an issue, as it was for The Daily Table in Boston. The brain child of a former Trader Joe's president opened its second location, offering food that is close to its sell-by date for a fraction of the regular cost.
Food insecurity is a major issue for Baltimore and the state of Maryland, but one that is improving, according to the report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ten percent of the state's families faced food insecurity from 2014 to 2016, down from 13.3% from 2011 to 2013. Nationwide, nearly 30 million Americans live in communities without easy access to healthy food.
Food deserts are an issue being tackled at the state level by government initiatives, rather than by retailers. Ohio and Pennsylvania have enacted programs, which offer grocery chains low-interest loans or grants to open stores in underserved communities. This can be a tough sell, though, even with the financial incentive.
Grocery chains aren't highly motivated to tackle the social issue of food insecurity or food deserts. They operate a low-margin business already, and may be less inclined to invest in less than ideal locations. Still, shoppers are becoming increasingly attracted to mission-based brands, and supermarkets would be wise to look for opportunities to support their communities.