What comes to mind when you think of a corner store? Chances are it involves soda, candy, beer, and cigarettes, and aisles stocked with processed foods like corn chips and instant mac and cheese.
In Minneapolis, local lawmakers have taken a novel step to change that vision. Thanks to a change in citywide license requirements, all stores selling food and beverages—including mini-marts and corner stores—must devote a certain amount of store space to produce and other healthy staple foods.
Why haven’t more cities followed Minneapolis’ lead? Government officials are trying to tackle the obesity problem from every angle—but few have considered expanding retail licensing laws in this relatively small way.
Could new licensing requirements like these make healthy foods easier to find in your city? And if so, how can you push for a change in the standards and help make sure the new policy is effective?
• Take a close look at your food “landscape.” What are the biggest concerns? If you don’t have many food stores of any kind, a citywide licensing law might not be your first priority—you may want to focus your energy on attracting grocery stores to the city instead. Meanwhile, if you’ve got a lot of fast-food restaurants in certain neighborhoods, you might want to work on changing the zoning code to limit new chains from setting up shop.
• Ask for community input. If stepping up licensing standards for food stores seems like the right approach, work to get buy-in from people who are invested in the outcome. Store owners, business associations, public health officials, local residents, and agencies that might be responsible for enforcing the policy are all key partners to include. Some questions to ask: What requirements are most important to us? What resources or systems need to be in place to make this successful? Who is likely to oppose this policy, and how can we address their concerns?
• Set realistic standards. If many retailers in your community fail to meet current license requirements, find out what the barriers are from the agency currently charged with monitoring compliance—and strategize opportunities for improvement.
• Language matters. A clear, strongly written policy will lay the foundation for success. The policy should state explicitly who will be responsible for tasks involved in carrying out the policy, including outreach and enforcement. It should also make a strong case for why the policy is important in the first place.
• Follow through. Getting a new policy enacted is just the beginning. To make sure it produces meaningful changes, stay in touch with retailers and enforcement personnel to help them integrate the new standards into their current practice. Be sure to monitor what is and isn’t working so you can stay on top of any issues as they emerge.
Of course, it’ll take more than improving licensing standards to make neighborhoods healthier, but encouraging people to eat better is pointless if healthier foods are out of reach. A small change in licensing requirements could make healthier choices easier for your entire city.
Want to learn more about how to use local licensing laws to bring healthier foods into neighborhood stores? ChangeLab Solutions
has developed a guide and a model ordinance that city policymakers can tailor to their needs.