NOW SELLING fresh fruits and vegetables One New Orleans corner store makes progress in the produce department

**NOW SELLING fresh fruits and vegetables
One New Orleans corner store makes progress in the produce department**
Healthscaping – Issue 8
May 25, 2010

One corner store in New Orleans Bywater neighborhood is altering its usual stocking practices by increasing the amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables that it carries.

Akin to other urban areas, patrons of New Orleans corner stores are overwhelmed by the quantity and marketing of high-calorie junk food, sugar-sweetened beverages, tobacco and alcohol. What they don't typically find are fresh fruits and vegetables positioned for sale.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a study by the Prevention Research Center (PRC) at Tulane University is conducting a financial analysis on the benefits of selling healthy versus unhealthy foods in small food store in a low-income neighborhood. The healthy store intervention commenced in March 2010, and included the installation of a cooler, taste-testing, marketing materials and public relations outreach.

In June 2009, 200 customer intercept surveys were conducted to gauge customer preferences and purchasing patterns prior to the in-store intervention. Over 50 percent of customers said they would be very likely to purchase more fruits and vegetables if they were made available to them, and 80 percent would be at least somewhat likely to purchase them. Surprisingly, the top four fruits requested were items already stocked in the store, bananas, oranges, apples and tomatoes.

"This reality provided great insight into intervention strategies for the research team," said Lauren Futrell Dunaway, program manager. "The influence of product placement and promotion in the store seems clear."

Not surprisingly, more shelf space was allocated to alcohol and tobacco than anything else. Together these two products represented about half of all sales. Sugar-sweetened beverages accounted for the largest percentage of food sales. Relatively little space was provided to fruits and vegetables, and their quality was not good.

With these findings in mind, the first component of the intervention was the purchase of a large cooler to store produce. The installation of the new cooler enabled the store to better display, preserve and expand its current stock of produce. The store has even started to carry seasonal fruits and vegetables, like blueberries, blackberries, zucchini, squash and watermelon.

Customers were invited to taste test new produce selections at the store twice during the month of April. Many taste testers brought their family members back to the store, and a total of 61 people participated.

Focusing on promotion, the Tulane PRC hired a design firm to produce a large sign to display outside the store and postcards advertising the addition of new, fresh produce in the store. The postcards were mailed to residents of the Bywater neighborhood in April, and extras are available at the store checkout counter. An article promoting the store changes also appeared in the Bywater Neighborhood Association (BNA) newsletter. This article was supplemented by attendance at a BNA meeting in early April, where residents learned of the partnership between the Tulane PRC and the corner store and the resulting healthy changes to the store.

Financial data on in-store purchases post-intervention will continue, and customer-intercept surveys will also be conducted to determine what, if any changes, customers noticed in the stores.

"We hope this study will provide insight on how small stores can be cost-effectively outfitted to provide customers with healthier choices," said Dunaway. "The next critical phase in fighting the obesity epidemic at the community level will go beyond supplementing to replacing unhealthy foods and beverages in small-food stores with healthy options."

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Topics:   obesity , food environment , nutrition , diet

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