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Fresh Food Sales Grow as Small Markets Transform Produce Sections
By Catherine Mahoney, Community Health Program Specialist, County of San Diego
Many people in San Diego County struggle to not only find fresh produce, but also to shop for diverse fruits and vegetables from their respective cultural backgrounds. In an effort to improve access to fresh and affordable food, the County of San Diego’s Live Well Community Market Program, a CalFresh Healthy Living program, joined with small neighborhood markets (five in 2022) to provide more healthy options to their customers.
“Thank you so much for helping me transform my store,” said Hector Salas, owner of Frutería Nayarit in the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego, speaking about the power of the program. “All my customers have said they loved the new produce section and have bought more fruits and vegetables because of it.”
Small neighborhood markets and corner stores are invaluable community assets. They contribute to an improved and more equitable food shopping experience for residents when fresh produce, healthy snacks, and staple food items are readily available. Through the Live Well Community Market Program, the Urban Food Equity team at the University of California San Diego Center for Community Health aims to support small markets by helping each market owner to develop a plan to independently expand and sustain their produce section by providing technical assistance and resources.
Upon enrollment in the program, market owners learn about managing the logistics of selling fresh produce and receive resources and guidelines on how to stock, display, rotate, and store produce.
Next, all five participating markets in the 2022 cohort underwent a produce section remodel, including the addition of more culturally relevant items.
Market owners were provided wicker baskets, refrigerator bins, tiered produce baskets, price cards, recipe cards, and other supportive materials to set up, maintain, and promote their revamped produce sections. In addition, market owners were given marketing materials and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) signs to highlight the healthy changes they made in their stores and to cross-promote purchasing healthy foods with EBT.
Most of the markets were in low-income areas where a significant proportion of residents live more than a half-mile from a full-service grocery store. All participating market owners expressed interest in providing their shoppers, who mainly identify as Latinx, Thai, Lao, and Karen, with a wider selection of culturally relevant produce.
All five markets have reported success with their newly revamped produce sections, with one reporting enthusiasm and appreciation for the 30 percent sales increase they saw in fruit and vegetable sales.
For the long-term, the Urban Food Equity team will conduct progress checks and continue to provide market owners with technical support to help increase their capacity to sell more produce and introduce more ethnically diverse and locally grown foods to their stores.
Are you a market owner who is interested in participating?