Corner stores are defined as small stores offering limited selections of food and other products. They are ubiquitous throughout urban, suburban and rural communities and might also be called convenience stores, neighborhood stores, bodega or mom-and-pops. (Source, Source) Corner stores can be the main food supplier in communities that lack supermarkets, which can negatively impact community health since most of these stores sell highly processed foods, offering few options for fresh produce and other healthy food options. (Source) Additionally, corner stores are frequent destinations for children, many of whom stop at corner stores on the way to and from school for snacks, making the need for healthier food choices even more critical. (Source)
“Healthy corner store” definitions vary depending on the organization making the criteria. According to the Healthy Corner Stores Network (HCSN), the “standards typically include requirements to stock certain types of items (such as whole grain bread, low-fat milk, or fresh produce) and/or a minimum number of healthy items (such as six types of fresh produce).” In some cases, standards may also include requirements for store design and requirements to limit or eliminate marketing of alcohol and tobacco products.
Seattle’s Health Foods Here Campaign is a collaboration between King County Public Health and the City’s Office of Economic Development that provides a website containing resources for community groups and businesses involved in the project.
Value Proposition for Sustainable Consumption
Healthy corner stores are shown to provide benefits that address consumption levels while also increasing equity and improving profits for business owners:
Healthy corner stores help to increase food-related equity in neighborhoods that historically lack access to healthy food options (a.k.a. food deserts).
Healthy corner stores show an increase in profits after increasing the amount of fresh produce available in their stores. They are also correlated with positive changes in surrounding property values. (Source)
Providing high-quality foods helps increase demand for more nutritious food and decreases demand for highly processed corn-and soy-based foods. Not only do these processed foods not meet humans’ basic nutritional needs, but they require high levels of fossil fuel inputs in the growing and manufacturing processes.
Potential City Roles
Inventory—Ground-truth maps that show grocery outlets by engaging community members to see which stores offer healthy foods to their customers. Create maps to identify underserved areas.
Promote—Celebrate and profile small grocers who already do offer healthy foods and those making transitions to offering healthy choices. Promote the location of retailers offering healthy food choices within walking or biking distance of residential areas, especially those that are traditionally underserved.
Fund—Provide grants to help stores convert their infrastructure to support healthy foods.
Support—Provide technical assistance and other resources to support the transition for corner stores that want become healthy corner stores.
Measure—Include statistics on the number of businesses increasing availability of healthy foods in stores in your food security strategy.
Make policy adjustments—Change zoning code to require the sale of healthy foods in corner stores. Include provision of healthy foods in your next comprehensive plan update.
Convene—Bring together stakeholders to identify community needs, opportunities, challenges and strategies. Connect store owners with local farmers or farming organizations that can help provide locally grown produce and other healthy foods.
Partner/collaborate—Form partnerships with local and regional organizations to build coalitions that can work together to create and implement initiatives.
Advocate—Approach higher levels of government to provide subsidies for businesses offering healthy foods.
Incentivize—Offer financial incentives to corner stores that provide healthy foods in underserved areas.
Implementation Challenges and Potential Solutions
Improving corner and convenience stores is less complex and costly than constructing a new store, and builds on existing community resources. However, smaller scale corner store projects have some challenges:
Competing with the price, quality, and selection advantages of grocery stores can be a barrier for small-scale stores that don’t have the buying power that translates into lower prices for consumers. Two potential solutions that local government can contribute include subsidizing smaller-scale purchase of healthy foods and helping build local networks of corner stores that can buy cooperatively and increase their purchasing power.
Sourcing, pricing and stocking produce requires knowledge and proper refrigeration units or adequate shelf space. Local governments can help connect store owners to information resources or even provide technical assistance to help corner store owners and managers learn about the needs of healthy food items. (Source) They can also offer grants to businesses to pay for new store infrastructure.
An evaluation study conducted by Econsult for Philadelphia’s Healthy Corner Stores Network and The Food Trust showed that introducing “Fresh Kiosks” containing produce, low-fat dairy products, and other healthy foods into corner stores yielded an increase in profits of $100 per week for one store owner, including an increase in profits from customers in Pennsylvania's nutrition assistance program. Produce sales also increased by 60% in stores studied and the study found that 35% of overall sales went to “healthy” items. The same study found that over a 30-month period the Healthy Corner Stores Initiative supported 38 jobs and produced an additional $140,000 in tax revenue throughout Pennsylvania.