Win-Win-Win of Nutrition Incentives
Nutrition incentives have the potential to add significant profits for fruit and vegetable producers, while also improving nutrition security for Americans
By Mark Nicholson, Senior Policy Director at Fair Food Network
What if I told you there was an innovative way to get tens of millions of Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, something that has proven elusive for decades despite tremendous public and private investment?
What if I also told you this is not just an interesting academic theory, but work that is being done every day in communities across the country, resulting in families bringing home more nutritious food?
For more than a decade, nutrition incentive programs have been doing exactly that. People who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as food stamps) as part of their monthly food budget can match their fresh fruit and vegetable purchases dollar for dollar, in many cases up to $10 or more a day. This means families can bring home twice the fresh fruits and vegetables when they shop. Since the earliest pilot programs at farmers markets in New York City and Takoma Park, Maryland, nutrition incentives have remained a win-win-win: More healthy food for families, better business for farmers, and a boost for local economies.
Fair Food Network piloted its nutrition incentive program, Double Up Food Bucks, in Detroit in 2009. Since then, it has spread to nearly every county in Michigan. We have also worked alongside partners to launch the program in 29 other states – helping direct the purchasing power of federal food assistance toward local and regional food producers across the country. Today, Double Up or another nutrition incentive program is available in nearly every state, but there is still more work to do.
Public-private partnerships are key to launching incentives in farmers markets and retailer locations through competitive U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants under the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). GusNIP partnerships are built from the “ground up” versus “top down,” unlike many federal programs. Each state’s program can include input from local fruit and vegetable producers and their industries, along with food assistance, public health, and SNAP participant communities.
As our nation faces the real and significant impacts of diet-related disease, nutrition incentives are proving to be an effective tool for expanding the consumption of fruits and vegetables. In fact, a recent evaluation of the national program shows that participants consume MORE produce than the average American, clinically significant given prior research demonstrating that every increase in fruit and vegetable intake has a protective impact on health. Given the amount of “time and treasure” the produce industry commits to expanding fruit and vegetable consumption, these findings are all the more impactful.
In addition, nutrition incentive programs continue to make an impact from coast to coast. According to Double Up’s Annual Report, from 2009 to 2021, 76 million pounds of healthy food were sold through Double Up, and $120 million SNAP and Double Up dollars supported local farmers and businesses. And demand for the program is not slowing down. In 2021, more families used Double Up than ever before: Nearly 759,000 families participated in the program, redeeming more than $20 million on healthy food.
It’s not often that a win-win-win solution has the potential to improve the health and well-being of millions of Americans while also increasing profits for businesses, and creating a healthy return on investment for the government.
As we work together to solve issues as intractable as hunger and the impacts of diet-related disease, the proven solution of SNAP nutrition incentives through GusNIP is already at the table. With adequate funding and a significant boost in the federal share of costs that’s possible in the 2023 farm bill, these “shovel-ready” programs are ready to scale their positive impacts for American farmers, grocers, families experiencing poverty, and communities nationwide.