The Major Way Stop & Shop Is Fighting Food Insecurity

Stop & Shop is set to test run Fresh Connect, the healthy eating program by the nonprofit organization About Fresh, later this spring. The idea, as The Progressive Grocer explains, is to help people who live in areas of high food insecurity, defined by About Fresh as those "cut off from accessing and affording fresh foods leading to stress and impossible trade-offs that impact their health and stability." The so-called "tech-enabled food prescription program" operates via debit cards given to eligible patients, who have been evaluated by About Fresh's "healthcare teams." Once enrolled, the patients can use their debit cards to purchase "a great selection of fruits and vegetables." 

Drug Store News reports this expansion follows a successful pilot program run in Grove Hall, Massachusetts. The program was able to work in the Boston area because About Fresh managed to get nearby healthcare centers and social services to fund its start-up. Speaking with Civil Eats about Fresh Connect's predecessor and similar program, Fresh Truck, South End Community Health Center COO Karen van Unen explained her organization's investment as a way to "help to at least minimize one barrier to healthy lifestyles." In other words, underwriting these purchases could offset higher institutional healthcare costs down the road for food insecure patients. 

Stop & Shop's partnership with About Fresh is also notable because it expands the reach of the program beyond mobile markets and into 100 of the grocer's locations across the Northeast. This collaboration, however, is not Stop & Shop's only effort to support folks dealing with food insecurity. 

Stop & Shop is amenable to such programs

Stop & Shop has also begun to accept other forms of assisted pay. In August 2021, the supermarket chain announced it would accept EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) for online SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) purchases. What does all that mean? SNAP is the federally-funded program defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency." Those benefits typically come via debit card that provides the EBT to the store or outlet where food is purchased. 

Supermarket News explained that Stop & Shop overhauled its online store to help people on SNAP see what products are eligible and apply the benefits to their checkout payment. The chain is the latest in a string of other food retailers, across 47 states and Washington, D.C., which have adopted the online payment program since it the U.S.D.A. started it in 2019.

With the food shortages seen throughout the spread of COVID-19, food insecurity rose by 4% during the pandemic, per NYU. This factor clearly played into Stop & Shop's decision to expand online payment methods, which company president Gordon Reid explained as a way to "make access to healthy food more accessible and convenient, especially for those impacted by the pandemic." He added, "Offering EBT payment online is an integral part of Stop & Shop's commitment to serving our communities."