When Jeff Brown opened his first grocery store in a low-income neighborhood in Philadelphia back in 2004, it seemed like a long shot.
Most people thought he was crazy to even attempt to make money in a food desert like Southwest Philly, he says. Other grocers had tried and quickly gone out of business.
But Brown – a fourth generation grocer whose company, Brown’s Super Stores, is part of the larger ShopRite franchise — tried a different approach: “Before we did anything, we brought together a group of community leaders, and we just asked them to tell us exactly what it is they were looking for in a neighborhood grocery store,” he tells The Salt.
It worked: Brown’s company now operates seven profitable supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods in and around Philadelphia. Along the way, he’s learned a thing or two about what it takes to change shopping and eating habits in food deserts.
Lately, it’s become clear that in many neighborhoods and towns across the U.S., it’s far too difficult to find fresh, healthy and affordable food. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that it had identified more than 6,500 food deserts in rural and urban areas. And food deserts aren’t just a problem of convenience: “The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease,” the agency notes.
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