By Pat Jones, Project Assistant
In the world of nutrition incentives, the most essential piece for success is a good grantee-retailer relationship.
Since starting this project, the NGAF Technical Assistance Center team has found there are generally five areas in which the stars must align in order for a partnership to be forged between a retailer and a grantee. This has been determined after conversations with approximately 50 retailers (some currently participating in incentives, some past incentive participants, and some interested in starting an incentive program) covering more than 28 states.
- Interest: Both the grantee and retailer must be interested in and committed to one another. Generally, a grantee is looking for someone with a high SNAP percentage, an alignment with program goals, a commitment to their customers and community (beyond immediate financial gain), and good communication. A retailer usually looks to partner with someone who aligns with their goals, has enough funding to make their commitment worth it, and speaks their language (at least proficiently). Also, this idea of retailer interest can quickly dissipate when a retailer realizes there are no grantees in their region and therefore, no one to potentially partner with.
- Program requirements: Depending on the mission of the grantee, there may be additional program requirements or elements required of retailers in order to participate. Sometimes a grantee might have more experience in the farmer’s market world and may have a program requirement that is simply unattainable by the retailer (i.e. local sourcing requirements).
- Funding: Is there enough funding from the grantee to launch a substantial program for the retailer that would make participating worthwhile for their customers? This is a crucial step, retailers and grantees must have clear communication on the amount of funding available and how it coincides with store sales (e.g. produce sales, percentage of produce in overall sales, SNAP percentage of all store sales). In multistore scenarios, the grantee and retailer must also decide how many stores they can feasibly cover and for how long. Stores might even back out when they hear that the funding is not guaranteed past a certain date. The juice may not seem worth the squeeze.
- POS and Reporting: In the experience of the NGAF TA Center this is the largest hurdle in forming the retailer-grantee partnership. The retailer needs to get their technology “incentive-ready”. This requires stores to take a deep dive into whether or not their POS system can process an efficient and accurate electronic nutrition incentive transaction at the store level and provide necessary reporting to the nonprofit to fulfill their grant requirements. Stores may find their POS system is capable, they may find a potential work-around through the POS system, or they may rely on third-party models to implement a program.
- Timing: Even if all the above seems to be on track, there could be a perfect storm of circumstances that result in bad timing for forming a partnership. This can seem like a lot of work for a store, and even if they determine it is possible, they might also realize that it’s not the right time for them to focus on the program. They might be short of time or staff, or they could even be anticipating new ownership and new policies. And don’t forget acts of God: Some stores are literally battling the elements at any given moment and might be more focused on riding out a hurricane season than they are in starting a whole new program for their store.
Once all of these stars align, both the grantee and the retailer must test the model out and take a leap of faith. Programs have a higher likelihood of success when each step is sufficiently discussed and every box is thoroughly checked. If either entity’s work is cursory in any of these five areas, there is potential for the program to have issues or, in some nightmare scenarios, relationships to fall apart.
If you would like to learn more about establishing a partnership and bringing nutrition incentives to your store, please visit our website at ngaftacenter.org.
*The NGAF TA Center addresses the challenges grocers and supermarket operators face in establishing nutrition incentive programs and is a proud partner of the Nutrition Incentive Hub. The Nutrition Incentive Hub, funded through a cooperative agreement from the United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is a new resource that provides training, technical assistance, reporting, and evaluation for those working to launch or expand SNAP incentives or produce prescription programs. The Nutrition Incentive Hub is led by Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition in partnership with Fair Food Network along with a coalition of evaluators, researchers, practitioners, and grocery and farmers market experts from across the country dedicated to strengthening and uniting the best thinking in the field to increase access to affordable, healthy food to those who need it most.