“If you Build it with them, they will come”: What makes a supermarket intervention successful in a food desert?

Date01 August 2019
Published date01 August 2019
If you Build it with them, they will come: What makes a
supermarket intervention successful in a food desert?
Catherine Brinkley
|Charlotte Glennie
|Benjamin Chrisinger
|Jose Flores
University of California, Davis, California,
Standford University, California, USA
Catherine Brinkley, University of California,
2333 Hart Hall, 1 Shields Avenue, Davis, CA
Email: ckbrinkley@ucdavis.edu
Using 71 planned supermarket interventions in food deserts, this study assesses the
interplay between regional geography, management models, policy drivers, financing,
and timing. We find that community engagement and cooperative management
models are important factors to opening and sustaining a new store, contributing to
subsequent improvements in the foodscape, built environment, and dietrelated
health. Findings show that none of the nonprofit or communitydriven stores have
closed whereas nearly half of the commercialdriven and one third of government
driven cases resulted in canceled plans or closed stores. Our research suggests
community engagement is a critical component of effective policies for healthy food
access. Future studies may wish to include measurements of community engagement
with their case studies to better situate explanatory findings.
In the United States andelsewhere, lowincome communities and com-
munities of color bear disproportionate health burdens, in part due to
spatial and economic disparities in the food system (Algert, Agrawal, &
Lewis, 2006; Beaulac, Kristjansson, & Cummins, 2009; Brinkley, Raj, &
Horst, 2017;Gordon et al., 2011; Walker,Keane, & Burke, 2010). These
spatial food system disparities are partially explained by a lack of
purchasing power to support a supermarket business model, and such
places are often called food deserts(Cummins & Macintyre, 2002).
In response, several cityand statelevel, nonprofit, and private
programs began initiatives to establish new supermarkets. At the
federal level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began to
focus on dietrelated spatial data with the Food Atlas project. Here,
food deserts were officially defined in 2008 as communities with
either 500 residents or 33% of the area's population living further than
1 mile from a supermarket or 10 miles away for rural communities (see
Figure 1, USDA, 2018). Accordingto the USDA, 23.5 million Americans
live in food deserts distributed among 448 counties in the United
States of which 98% are nonmetropolitan rural counties (Figure 1).
Informed by local policies and national data, First Lady Michelle
Obama's Let's MoveCampaign urged congress to create the 2010
Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), which received $125 million
from the 2014 Farm Bill (Obama, 2012). The goal of HFFI was to
improve access to healthy food options while creating job and
business development opportunities in lowincome communities,
particularly as grocery stores often serve as anchor institutions in
commercial centers(US Department of Health and Human Services,
2010). In addition to food access, supermarkets often act as economic
generators by providing local jobs and offering the convenience of
neighborhood services, such as pharmacies and banks (Bell & Standish,
2009). An economic analysis of 12 supermarkets opening in inner city
Worchester, Massachusetts, USA showed between a 4 and 7 percent
home value increase due to the the amenities that new supermarkets
bring to a neighborhood (Caceres & Geoghegan, 2017). We refer to
such efforts as supermarket intervention policiesafter Lee and Lim's
(2009) classification of retail intervention policies.
A group of major food retailers responded to the Let's Move
nitiative in 2011 by promising to open or expand 1,500 supermarket
or convenience stores in and around food desert neighborhoods by
2016 (Kraak, Story, Wartella, & Ginter, 2011). The effort had limited
initial success. According to The Partnership for a Healthier America
report, the nation's top 75 food retailers opened approximately 250
new supermarkets in food deserts between 2011 and 2015, falling
short of their goal by implementing only a quarter of the promised
stores (Partnership for a Healthier America, 2017). Indeed, corporate
consolidation and store closures are creating ever more food deserts
(Isidore, 2017). Worse, some of the intervention supermarkets have
since closed. Such closures can have longterm implications for a
neighborhood's status as a food desert, particularly if a retailer
has placed deed restrictions on a property, preventing a competitive
supermarket from opening in the same location (Peters, 2017).
Received: 20 March 2018 Revised: 28 June 2018 Accepted: 14 August 2018
DOI: 10.1002/pa.1863
J Public Affairs. 2019;19:e1863.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pa 1of13

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