By Patrick Jones, Project Assistant, and Ted Mason, Project Director
When our team first came together and began establishing a technical assistance center for brick-and-mortar grocery stores involved in the GusNIP program, a big aspect of our game plan was travel. We planned to meet grocers in the flesh, explain the benefits of nutrition incentive programs and conduct in-store visits with grocers successfully implementing programs to learn more.
Little did we know we would spend most of our formative months behind a COVID-19 screen, yearning for these interactions. Luckily, a year and a half into the establishment of our TA Center, we had the chance to hit the road and attend a few industry trade shows that delivered interesting results.
Our team members traveled to Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) shows in Kansas City, Nashville and Memphis, along with the Merchants Distributors Incorporated (MDI) show in Hickory, N.C. We also participated as an exhibitor in the National Grocers Association (NGA) Show in Las Vegas. At each of these shows, we had our own booth, which became a platform for inviting retailers to learn more about the world of nutrition incentives. What we did not expect was the overwhelming level of enthusiasm we encountered.
Team members Pat Jones and Ted Mason at the NGA Show in Las Vegas, NV
Not only did nearly every retailer stop when we asked about their knowledge of nutrition incentives, they leaned in to learn more, and many came away committed to establishing a program in their store or reaching out to a non-profit with whom they might be able to apply. Grocers seemed more in-tune than ever with the needs of their communities, hungry for ways in which to positively affect the lives of their customers.
The pandemic has had a lasting effect on the relationship between grocer and customer. Communities came to appreciate their local independent grocer in ways they might have forgotten about in the past. Independent grocers did everything they could to keep food and supplies on their shelves and keep their customers healthy; in turn, customers grew more loyal to their stores and knew they could count on them to help them pull through the pandemic. Trust was established and new bonds were formed that have made grocers acutely aware of the needs of their community members. Therefore, the concept of nutrition incentives was more attractive than ever before.
We were also surprised by how few grocers had heard of these programs (at some shows, not a single retailer had knowledge of GusNIP or incentive programs). This reinforced the fact that these programs continue to be a point of differentiation in the stores where they are offered. Retailers have a rare opportunity to increase their produce sales, provide benefits to customers and community members, and create repeat customers (check out this video about a grocer in Brooklyn, N.Y., who highlights the effects the program has had in his store).
Our trips across the country were invaluable to our work as we learned about how unanimous the desire was to participate in these life-changing programs. Programs continue to be established in new areas, looking for new grocers to have a direct impact on the future of their customers and communities. Wouldn’t you like to get involved in one of these programs to positively affect your community and help your bottom line?
*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.