Local produce incentive program expands

March 16, 2017
Source: Supermarket News
Author: Mark Hamstra

An increasing number of food retailers have found that a healthy-eating incentive program that was originally launched at farmers’ markets can help drive sales in their stores as well.

The program, called Double Up Food Bucks, offers low-income consumers an incentive to buy local produce and to purchase more fruits and vegetables overall. It has been growing quickly in the grocery sector, with dozens more stores slated to come online around the country this year.

This spring Double Up will be rolled out to 51 Price Chopper stores in the Kansas City, Mo., market, after launching in just a handful of Price Chopper locations in 2015.

“We’re big proponents of the program, because it helps our customers, it helps local farmers, and it’s good for us, too, so it’s a win-win program all around,” said Michael Beal, chief operating officer, Ball’s Food Stores.

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SpartanNash offers Double Up Food Bucks at 17 Family Fare stores in Michigan.

Ball’s debuted Double Up Food Bucks in four Kansas City-area Price Chopper locations in 2015 and has since expanded it to 14 stores. This spring, several additional Price Chopper operators in the market are planning to launch the program. In addition, a Whole Foods Market in Overland Park, Kan., and Rollin’ Grocer, a traveling store based out of a trailer, also participate in the program in the Kansas City market.

Double Up Food Bucks was launched by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Fair Food Network in five farmers’ markets in the Detroit area in 2009. Consumers who receive Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, can earn $1 toward the future purchase of any produce item for every $1 they spend on local produce at participating grocery stores.

The program received a boost through $100 million in funding that was included in the 2014 Farm Bill, some of which was awarded last year to local organizations supporting Double Up Food Bucks. The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants program was created to support healthy food incentive programs like Double Up Food Bucks across the country.

“It has energized this deal, and incentivized more partners to bring this program into their communities,” said Emilie Engelhard, communications director at the Fair Food Network, of the FINI program.

Beal said the Double Up Food Bucks program has driven up sales of local produce in double digit percentages at Ball’s Price Chopper stores and has increased transactions among SNAP customers.

The local organization driving the program in the Kansas City area, called Double Up Heartland, has a goal of expanding the program to 117 retail locations and 68 farmers’ markets in the region by 2019, according to Engelhard.

In addition to Kansas and Missouri, the Double Up Food Bucks program has also been rolled out to grocery stores in Michigan, Arkansas, New York, Colorado and New Mexico, and just last month was introduced in California. The program launched in the San Jose, Calif., market in three retail locations — two Arteaga’s Food Centers and one location of Food Bowl 99.

This summer it is slated to debut at Schnuck Markets in the St. Louis, Mo., area, according to the Double Up Heartland website.

“We really do see grocery as being an important next tier for incentive work,” said Engelhard.

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Retail banner D&W Fresh Market reflects SpartanNash’s commitment to fresh.

SpartanNash, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2014 became the first major retailer to 0ffer Double Up Food Bucks in multiple stores when it launched in two Family Fare supermarkets in Michigan. The program was expanded to five Family Fare locations in 2015, and last year it expanded the rollout to 17 Family Fare stores in Michigan.

In 2016, 80% of points earned toward produce were redeemed, SpartanNash said. The company said it was in the process of “significantly expanding its program for 2017.”

“I love that we can offer the Double Up Food Bucks program at our store for the fourth year in a row,” said Renee Harris, store director of the Family Fare Supermarket in Battle Creek, Mich. “Through the program, we can support local products while helping our customers stretch their food dollars and encourage healthier eating.”

SpartanNash said the program exemplifies its commitment to corporate responsibility, including environmental sustainability and social responsibility.

Fair Food Network said both Ball’s Food Stores and SpartanNash have been important to the growth of the program at retail.

“The partnership with SpartanNash significantly raised the profile of the work within the grocery sector at large,” said Oran Hesterman, president and CEO of Fair Food Network. “SpartanNash understood early on the power of this work as a means to better serve its customers and the broader community.”

SpartanNash and Ball’s Food Stores both have long had a commitment to local produce, and SpartanNash recently expanded its capabilities in this area with the acquisition of Caito Foods Service, a distributor of fruits, vegetables and prepared foods.

“We are excited to join forces with SpartanNash and increase our footprint in providing local fresh products,” Tony Mitchell, VP of sales and procurement at Caito Foods, told SN. “This acquisition will serve to enhance our reach to a greater number of regional family farms and consumers.”

He said consumer interest in local product, which is being driven in large part by Millennials, continues to gain strength.

“We understand that customers have a growing appetite for locally grown items, and SpartanNash has an equally strong appetite for supporting local farmers,” said Mitchell.

Beal of Ball’s Food Stores said he continues to see growth in demand for local produce as well.

“Our consumers are telling us they want fresh, and its almost to the point where there’s a perception by consumers that it’s as important as organic,” he said, noting that many of the local farmers who supply Ball’s locations do farm organically.

“Local farmers want to get their goods to market, and we have been doing that with local farmers for 18 or 20 years,” said Beal. “This is just another benefit of working with local farmers, and we continue to help them grow that business.”

 

First posted on Supermarket News March 16, 2017.