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Availability of Fresh Food Doesn’t Mean People Will Buy It

Availability of Fresh Food Doesn’t Mean People Will Buy It

If you’ve been paying attention to the media lately, you’ve probably heard quite a bit about food deserts. For those of you who haven’t heard, food deserts are areas of high poverty where access to affordable, healthy food — like fresh produce — is almost impossible, especially without a car. Food deserts have been credited with a decline in overall health in impoverished areas, as well as with a rise in obesity.

Fortunately, awareness is being raised for this important issue. Groups like the Food Empowerment Project are working to help people understand that these food deserts are a serious problem and raise funds to get produce stores and fresh markets in areas where there aren’t any.

Stephen Matthews, professor in the departments of sociology, anthropology, and demography at Penn State University says: “The presumption is, if you build a store, people are going to come.” The idea here is that, if there is an increase in the supply of fresh food, there will be an increase in demand.

Sounds like simple economics, right? Wrong. A new study has found that simple availability of fresh food is not enough to increase demand for said food. Matthews and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine did a recent poll in a Philadelphia neighborhood in which a new supermarket — complete with a produce aisle — had opened six months ago. The results they found were surprising in that there was almost no change in residents’ shopping habits at all. Only 26 percent said that the new store was their go-to market, with a slightly higher percentage of people who lived extremely close to the store.

The bottom line is that, even if fresh produce is available, people aren’t going to go out of their comfort zones to buy or consume it.

So what can we do to help increase consumption of these healthy foods? Here are a few ideas.

Baby Steps

We all know that huge changes aren’t made overnight. Even those of us who have plenty of access to fresh fruits and veggies sometimes find ourselves reaching for a bag of potato chips rather than an apple. Encourage baby steps for people who have formed their habits around the food that has typically been available to them. Eat one apple a day, or replace one snack with some carrot sticks or celery. Encouraging this kind of behavior can help turn small steps into lifestyle changes.

Marketing Programs

Marketing can go a long way toward making fresh food look desirable. If people see eating healthy food as a chore, they’ll never want to do it. We need marketing programs that advertise the baby steps people can take to replace a few things with fresh produce. Make fresh food look appetizing and cool. These are just a few of the ways marketing programs can make a difference in the midst of a new store opening.

Free Recipes

Some of the resistance to produce might just be a lack of knowledge of what to do with it. Sure, you can eat it fresh and raw, but it’s good to incorporate it into meals, too. By offering free, easy recipes along with the produce, people will learn to cook with it and will keep coming back for more. Recipe cards next to the produce in the aisle are simple ways to spread free recipes.

Free Samples

Along with free recipes, offering samples of those recipes already prepared as people shop is one of the oldest tricks in the book for getting people to buy things in the grocery store. Featuring certain produce items can give people a taste of fresh food and entice them to buy more.

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Photo Credit: Pamela Stocks

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1:21AM PST on Feb 15, 2015

Thanks for sharing

5:59AM PST on Mar 1, 2014

Berty J. sometimes its just not possible to grow your own - or at least enough to keep feeding your family with healthy produce every day i.e. those who live in apartment complexes without any space to grow anything.

5:56AM PST on Mar 1, 2014

I would love to see mentioned in this article the need for much lower prices of fresh produce. When the choice comes down to a box of mac and cheese for .79 cents or an apple for $1.10 what do people think the choice will be for those on welfare and extremely limited income to feed their families?

6:43PM PST on Feb 18, 2014

When people are on a tight food budget, sometimes they think that fresh, healthy food it too expensive. What would really help is changing the farm subsidies so that large corporations can't keep passing off cheap, chemically-laden items as "food" while real farmers struggle to get fruits and vegetables onto the shelves.

3:09PM PST on Feb 18, 2014


9:38AM PST on Feb 18, 2014


6:35PM PST on Feb 17, 2014

The times are hard every where, some places are worse than others. The only real answer to this is to get rid of the politicians that are in bed with the wrong people or frankly don't have a clue since they probably have never missed a meal in their entire lives.Places like Appalachia are some of the poorest places in the world.And from all that I have heard in the past and all that I have heard in the present there are those calling the shots that don't want any changes as long as the coal is being mined,bought, and shipped.The honest hard working people are in dire straights with no hope on the horizon There is much shame on the perpetrators of this crime and i do believe if fresh food were made available it would be gotten provided the prices weren't to high and to there are those that just won't go the extra mile because it is easier to keep on doing it the easy way.There us no easy solution to this problem that covers the globe.

12:15PM PST on Feb 17, 2014

Try growing your own.

7:30AM PST on Feb 17, 2014

Thank you

10:59PM PST on Feb 16, 2014

Thank you for the article.

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