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Counting Carrots in Corner Stores: The Minneapolis Staple Foods Ordinance

A Law and Health Policy Project Bright Spot

Bright Spots

Check out these success stories of increasing fruit and vegetable intake across the Nation.

Legal and policy approaches can be important tools for achieving healthier communities. The report, The Role of Law and Policy in Achieving the Healthy People 2020 Nutrition and Weight Status Goals of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Intake in the United States, provides evidence-based information and identifies priority areas that can help communities achieve Healthy People 2020 objectives.

This Bright Spot tells how the Minneapolis Health Department is helping grocery store owners to stock and sell more fruits and vegetables to consumers.

Challenge: Limited access to fruits and vegetables

For residents of neighborhoods where the main places to buy food are corner stores and gas stations, accessing staple foods such as fruits and vegetables is challenging. In Minnesota, about 3 in 10 people have low access to healthy foods because they don’t live close enough to a full-service grocery store. Compared to other states, Minnesota is 1 of 10 where access to healthy food is the most limited in the Nation.1

Strategy: Stock healthy staple foods

In order to address this challenge in their city, the Minneapolis City Council adopted the Staple Foods Ordinance in 2008. The ordinance, the first of its kind in the United States, required licensed grocery stores (including corner stores, gas stations, dollar stores, and pharmacies) to stock specific staple items from 4 categories: dairy; bread or cereal; meat, poultry, fish or vegetable proteins; and fresh fruits and vegetables.

A year later, the Minneapolis Health Department (MHD) visited a sample of stores and found that only 28% were compliant with the ordinance requirements. According to Kristen Klingler, ‎Senior Public Health Specialist with MHD, the ordinance was not as effective as expected because the language was vague and included too many exemptions. The city also had limited capacity to enforce the law, and the stores needed more support to comply.

In 2010, in response to these challenges, MHD launched a voluntary Healthy Corner Store Program to support store owners in following the staple foods requirements. Three years later, the city also amended the ordinance to set more comprehensive and clear standards—and MHD began providing resources and technical assistance to ensure better compliance with the new standards.2

The updated 2014 Staple Foods Ordinance3 requires grocery stores to stock a certain amount of food items across 10 categories, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, eggs, and low-fat dairy. The fruit and vegetable requirements include specifics on quantity, variety, freshness, and the absence of “sweeteners, salts, sauces, or seasonings.” These requirements were based on the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program guidelines—and they align with the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends limiting sodium and added sugars while eating a variety of vegetables and whole fruits. Additionally, the revised ordinance made it harder for stores to be exempted from the staple food requirements. Stores that were previously exempt, such as gas stations and dollar stores, are now required to stock staple foods.4

In addition to offering training and technical assistance to grocery store owners, city officials partnered with the University of St. Thomas and local youth to create BrightSide Produce, a non-profit produce distributor. BrightSide facilitates compliance with the Staple Foods Ordinance by selling small quantities of fruits and vegetables to the smaller stores that can’t buy larger quantities of produce wholesale.5

Before and After Pictures of a Minneapolis Corner Store

Before and after pictures of a store in Minneapolis. Photos courtesy Minneapolis Health Department.

Impact: Clear standards and the right support get results

Since the adoption of the revised ordinance, MHD has seen positive trends in compliance with the stocking requirements. Though most stores are not yet meeting all 10 of the staple foods requirements, they’re moving in the right direction. As of July 2018:6

  • Compliance with the fruits and vegetables category has increased from 68% in 2015 to 74%.
  • 92% of stores are meeting at least 6 out of 10 requirements, and 38% are meeting all 10 requirements.

“While there’s still room for improvement in overall compliance, we’re very excited to see stores stocking a wider variety of healthy foods over time, especially non-traditional grocery stores such as corner stores, gas stations, and pharmacies, because this represents an improvement in healthy food availability in low-income communities,” Klingler says.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are evaluating the ordinance to assess changes in the nutritional quality of consumer purchases. They are also studying changes in the availability of healthy and unhealthy foods within stores, changes in stocking practices and perceptions regarding healthy foods, and changes in consumer consumption as well as purchasing behaviors.

Lesson Learned: Evaluation and improvement efforts promote policy success

While legal and policy solutions are important tools for achieving healthier communities, simply enacting a new policy is rarely enough on its own. The multifaceted approach that MHD and its partners took in Minneapolis show that implementing new policies and regulations, continuing educational efforts, and enforcement of the ordinance are all helpful.

Another important lesson for communities that may be seeking to implement similar solutions is that evaluation of and improvement to policies is critical, particularly for first-of-its-kind legislation. For example, reexamining the original 2008 ordinance showed MHD that some definitions in the law needed clarification and that store owners needed more information about their rights and responsibilities. Even now, city officials are using research to improve the ordinance by ensuring that the food requirements are inclusive of culinary diversity.7

Implementing an ordinance like this takes time, but Klingler is hopeful that the impact will continue to grow. “We’re continually looking at ways to increase compliance with the ordinance so that healthy foods are readily available for everyone in our community, regardless of where they live or shop,” she says.

Footnotes

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Footnotes

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