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Move Over, Cheetos: How to Bring Healthy Food to your Local Convenience Store

Simple changes to local policy can help bring healthy food to local corner stores.


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.
Original fruit image via Shutterstock\n
This month, we're challenging the GOOD community to host a dinner party and cook a meal that contains fewer ingredients than the number of people on the guest list. Throughout March, we'll share ideas and resources for being more conscious about our food and food systems. Join the conversation at good.is/food and on Twitter at #chewonit.\n

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A crowd of Birmingham residents gathered at a community college parking lot in 2011 to welcome a new sight to the neighborhood: fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. While the mayor and other local leaders delivered speeches, shoppers browsed tables piled high with collard greens, okra, peaches, green beans, melons—produce grown less than 100 miles away but seldom seen in local food stores.
This volunteer-led Southwest Fresh Market is part of an ambitious plan initiated by REV Birmingham, a nonprofit working with local government, business, and community partners to find solutions to a common challenge: how to connect urban, often low-income residents with small farmers looking to boost sales. Making the link is a “win-win,” says Andy Williams, one of the growers at the Southwest Fresh Market. “The farmer gets a guaranteed base of consumers, and the neighborhood gets good food and local jobs. Right now it’s a missed opportunity.”
Birmingham has seen grocery stores shut their doors in recent decades, as big box retailers on the outskirts of the city have become the norm. Today, many of the city’s food stores are restaurants and small corner stores that mostly sell packaged, frozen, and prepared foods. A recent survey found that more than 40 percent of Birmingham residents live in areas defined as “food deserts,” neighborhoods with extremely limited access to grocery stores selling healthy food.

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