Price incentives boost SNAP produce purchases

November 7, 2019

Source: Politico
Author: Ryan McCrimmon

PRICE INCENTIVES BOOST SNAP PRODUCE PURCHASES: A USDA-funded program designed to encourage low-income Americans to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables is showing signs of success in Michigan supermarkets, according to a new study published in Health Affairs. Double Up Food Bucks matches up to $20 a day in fresh produce purchases by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants, and it was initially deployed in farmers markets. In 2015, USDA awarded $5 million to the program’s creator, Fair Food Network, to expand into supermarkets over a four-year period.

Researchers funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation analyzed millions of transactions at 32 supermarkets in Michigan in 2015 and 2016; some offered Double Up Food Bucks while others did not, acting as the control group. SNAP participants spent 7.2 percent more on fresh produce in 2015 at stores offering the subsidy. The following year, purchases were 2.2 percent higher.

The study’s lead author attributed the disparity between 2015 and 2016 to changes in what produce qualified. The first year, SNAP participants could buy any fresh fruits and vegetables, but the matching funds had to be spent on local produce. The following year, that criteria was flipped for unclear reasons, according to Pasquale Rummo, an assistant professor of research at New York University’s School of Medicine. Starting in 2017, there were no “local” requirements, Rummo said. His team plans to do a follow-up study.

The results also suggest the program can buttress falling produce sales during winter, Rummo said. The Michigan supermarkets launched Double Up Food Bucks from August to December of each year. Even though the percentage of spending on fresh produce was lower during this period compared with the first part of the year, the drop was smaller at supermarkets that implemented the subsidy.

“Our results show that this program is very feasible,” Rummo said. “We saw a significant increase in spending, and we have reason to believe — based on other research — that it will lead to an increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables. Supermarkets and managers were also willing to participate, state SNAP agency’s mailed notices to create awareness and cashiers helped explain it to customers.”

First published in Politico on November 7, 2019.