Objective: Non-supermarket food retailers can be a promising channel for increasing the availability of healthy foods in underserved communities. The present paper reports on retailer practices, attitudes and beliefs about the supply of healthy foods before and after the introduction of new subsidies for healthy foods by the US Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in October 2009.
Design: We designed and conducted in-person standardized interviews with store owners and managers to assess perceptions of demand and profits for different foods, supply networks, barriers to stocking healthy foods and their changes following implementation of the new WIC packages.
Setting: Non-supermarket retailers in five towns of Connecticut, USA (n 68 in 2009 and n 58 in 2010).
Subjects: Owners and managers of WIC-authorized and non-WIC convenience stores and non-chain grocery stores.
Results: Retailers identified customer demand as the primary factor in stocking decisions. They reported observing a significantly weaker demand for healthy foods compared with unhealthy foods, although it improved for certain foods with the new WIC subsidies. Less healthy foods were also perceived as more profitable. Supplier networks varied by product from convenient manufacturer delivery for salty snacks to self-supply for produce. WIC retailers were able to quickly adapt and supply healthy foods required under the new WIC programme guidelines.
Conclusions: Retailers other than supermarkets currently perceive little demand for healthy foods, but new WIC subsidies have the power to change these perceptions. Supply barriers seem secondary in the limited offerings of healthy foods by stores and could be overcome when policy changes generate new demand for healthy foods.