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Food Deserts Need the Right Kinds of Supermarkets

Research indicates that opening a supermarket in an area that needs it is not enough. The ownership model and relationship to the community are essential to long-term success.
September 21, 2019, 11am PDT | Camille Fink
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Ben Chrisinger

Catherine Brinkley at the University of California, Davis writes about her team’s research on the types of supermarkets that have successfully operated in food deserts. "A shuttered supermarket is more than just a business failure. It can perpetuate the food desert problem for years and prevent new stores from opening in the same location, worsening a neighborhood’s blight."

The researchers identified 71 planned supermarkets since 2000 in food deserts. "Of those, 21 were driven by government, 18 by community leaders, 12 by nonprofits and eight by commercial interests. Another dozen were driven by a combination of government initiative with community involvement," notes Brinkley.

They found that 22 of the community and nonprofit supermarkets opened and have continued operations. "In contrast, nearly half of the commercial stores and a third of the government developments have closed or didn’t it make it past planning. Five of the government/community projects also failed or were canceled," says Brinkley.

They also found that most of the community supermarkets, 16 of 18, operated as cooperatives and promoted community engagement and involvement. "The success of a supermarket intervention is predicated on use, which may not happen without community buy-in. Supporting cooperatives is one way to ensure that shoppers show up," adds Brinkley.

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Published on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 in The Conversation
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