The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently published a report to assess eaters’ perceptions of dollar stores. It finds that these businesses can be important fixtures in communities and suggests there are opportunities to use their position to increase access to healthy foods.
“The goal of our healthy retail work is to ensure that people have access to healthy food no matter where they live or shop. Dollar stores have been top of mind for us within the space and so that’s really where the inspiration motivation for this report came from,” Sara John, Deputy Director at CSPI and co-author of the report, tells Food Tank.
The authors of the report sought to understand the role dollar stores play in providing food, particularly for financially constrained households. To do this, CSPI researchers collected data through a national survey, focused on 750 individuals living near dollar stores with limited financial resources. The survey looked at respondents’ perceptions, shopping behaviors, and views on healthy choices within these stores.
The report finds that dollar stores, rapidly proliferating across the United States, play a significant role in food acquisition for communities. Respondents viewed dollar stores positively for their convenience and affordability but identified barriers such as low-quality products, inadequate staffing, and limited healthy food availability, urging for increased access to healthier choices within these stores.
“We’re hoping, at least from a corporate perspective, that the survey results demonstrate to Dollar General and Dollar Tree stores that healthy food expansion, especially in areas that stand the benefit the most, makes sense for both their business and the communities they serve,” John shares with Food Tank.
CSPI reports that dollar stores are the fastest-growing food retailer in the United States by number and dollars spent on food. Data from Nielsen shows that there are over 37,000 dollar stores in the U.S. and CSPI reports that more than 35,000 of these stores are owned by just two companies: Dollar Tree and Dollar General. According to John, just 16 percent of Dollar Generals offer fresh produce in their stores.
But the authors believe that opportunities exist to bring more healthy foods into these stores and to take advantage of the positive attitude that consumers have toward the businesses. Based on their findings, the authors recommend a multifaceted approach involving policy actions at local and federal levels, corporate responsibility, and continued research efforts.
Suggestions included implementing policies to regulate and improve the healthy food offerings in dollar stores, enhancing SNAP retailer standards, expanding fresh food options in underserved areas, and collaborating with community organizations and agencies to improve healthy food access through dollar stores. Additionally, CPSI advises corporate entities to prioritize having healthy items on shelves, report progress on environmental and social goals, and engage in collaborations to understand barriers to stocking healthier foods.
Following the report’s release CSPI also launched the corporate campaign Don’t Discount Families Dollar General. It asks dollar stores to accept Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits at more locations, making healthy foods more accessible for moms and children.
“I think it’s important to not only be doing research to inform policies, but also to make sure we are researching and evaluating existing policies as well,” John tells Food Tank. “We need to better understand the impact of these policies that are being passed and any potential unintended consequences that they may have.”
This article was written by Natalie Wright
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