Changing the Food Environment: What is Feasible in Small Food Stores
Small retail food stores are on the decline in Minnesota, and 1.6 million Minnesotans have little access to a full-service grocery store (Rauch & Mattessich, 2016). Additionally, grocery stores closing in rural communities can be economically and socially detrimental to communities. Small food stores, such as convenience and corner stores, are becoming an increasingly important source of healthy food and an important partner with local food distributors in rural communities. The importance of small food stores is especially pronounced in under-resourced communities, as increasing their stock of healthy, appealing, and affordable foods, especially fruits and vegetables, could make these stores a more attractive destination for shoppers and decrease traveling time to other food stores. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is responding to the need in rural Minnesota to develop flexible guidelines that advance place-based food systems. MDH collaborated with 10 local public health (LPH) agencies from across the state and partnered with small food stores to modify the availability, placement, and promotion of healthy food and beverage products. MDH and LPH agencies co-developed the intervention and evaluation and gathered input from storeowners to create innovative intervention strategies. Strategies were rooted in policies, systems, and environmental (PSE) change approaches and focused on stocking and selling healthy products. The approaches for sourcing healthy products varied, but some strategies included working with local food distributors to stock healthy products, which can not only increase healthy food availability, but also help to stimulate the local economy. In this presentation, we shared how MDH collaborated with partners to develop innovative interventions, strategies, and materials. We highlighted challenges and opportunities in evaluating an evolving, community-based intervention where implementation strategies are tailored to unique store needs. We discussed the feasibility of this model and lessons learned about how to successfully make PSE change in stores across Minnesota to create a more robust place-based food system.
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