Acknowledging that food insecurity stems from a range of factors including a lack of income and transportation or mobility barriers, and that poor diet directly correlates with an increase in diet-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, Instacart is focusing its efforts on three areas where it believes it can make the most difference: nutrition security, making healthier choices easier and food as medicine.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, Sarah Mastrorocco, the vice president and general manager of Instacart Health, shares how the company is building on its strong foundation in food and nutrition access to improve food security and help reverse the damage it can cause and lower US health-care costs, 85% of which go to chronic diet-related illness.
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Instacart offers more than convenience
Many Americans used or were introduced to Instacart during the pandemic when they turned to the grocery technology company to access the food they need and love from its 1,400 retail banner partners with 80,000 stores while they sheltered at home. Today millions of consumers continue to lean on Instacart, which has a mission to create a world where people have access to the food they love and more time to enjoy it together.
But as Mastrorocco explains Instacart offers more than convenient food delivery – it also offers tools to help Americans build healthier habits, stretch their grocery budgets and improve nutrition security.
“Over two years ago, I started looking into how we can use our platform at Instacart to help because we know food and nutrition are deeply intertwined . The data today tells a pretty alarming story, right? … One hundred million Americans in the US are suffering from diet related disease and 85% of US healthcare costs are estimated to come from treating those chronic diseases. So that really, to me, tells the story of people suffering and food can be the answer,” Mastrorocco said.
“There is a clear call to action for us. Instacart can play a role, and so that is where we’ve decided to come in and say, ‘Hey, we can be infrastructure for food as medicine. Let us use our great network, let us help get trusted stores and brand and fresh produce to people that need it,” she added.
From this foundation, came idea for Instacart Health – an initiative launched last fall that builds on the company’s foundation in food and nutrition access and layers in research, policy advocacy and product innovation through key partnerships.
First pillar: Improving nutrition security
The first pillar focuses on improving nutrition security by increasing equitable access to healthy food – a goal that Mastrorocco says is about physical access but also affordability.
“There are many ways we [enable access]. The first is mobility challenges – getting it to your door from stores,” said Mastrorocco. “But it is not just that access. I see payments as well. So, how can I pay with funds that are available to me.”
To answer the second part, Mastrorocco said, Instacart became the first online marketplace to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits online in all 50 states in Washington, DC., and it continues to expand the retail locations on Instacart that accept SNAP.
“That really does help stretch your dollar. Think about having access to stores on Instacart that might have lower costs and better selection than the prices in the stores near your house,” she said.
Instacart also offers a stipend program called Fresh Funds that the healthcare industry and nonprofits can use, and It recently announced partnerships with Medicare Advantage.
In addition to improving access to healthy nutrition, Instacart is educating and inspiring consumers to make healthy choices. For example, it teamed with No Kid Hungry and the University of Kentucky to offer nutrition education to SNAP beneficiaries and found by doing so recipients spent almost $7 more on produce a week but kept their overall budget the same.
Instacart also acts as an intermediary between brands and health care providers to improve access to nutrition, such as in the partnership with Lean cuisine and Cleveland Clinic to deliver medically tailored meals to consumers through a pilot program.
Under this first pillar, Instacart also is working with Partnership for a Healthier America to bring 10 million servings of produce to nutrition insecure families across the US in the next three years as part of PHA’s Good Food For All program.
Second pillar: Making the healthy choice the easy choice
The second pillar of Instacart Health is to make the healthy choice the easy choice by providing tools to guide and simplify healthy grocery shopping.
“Our healthy choices easier pillar is about recipes and lists and having anybody be able to prescribe groceries on Instacart,” Mastrorocco said.
For example, the company offers Care Carts in which nutrition coaches can send groceries via Instacart to recipients. Also, virtual storefronts, like those in the recently released study with insurer Kaiser Permanente are designed to help people with diet related chronic disease make healthier choices and are tied to a stipend. Health care providers can also make lists of prescribed foods that recipients can shop on Instacart.
Third pillar: Facilitating food as medicine
The third prong of Instacart Health centers on offering modern tools for personalized health and collaborative care under food as medicine – a concept which Mastrorocco says is reaching a tipping point following last week’s announcement that Tufts University is launching The Food is Medicine Institute at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
“It is not Instacart’s job to decide [on a] food formulary,” or the types of foods that will be covered by insurers, “but it is our job to be infrastructure – to make sure that we can get [food to beneficiaries],” Mastrorocco said.
Instacart also supports research on the impact of food as medicine, and on this front has teamed with The Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association.
If you are interested in learning more about how Instacart, The Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association are working together and with other partners to innovate, test and expand food as medicine in the US, I encourage you to register for FoodNavigator-USA’s upcoming virtual summit that broadcasts Nov. 14-16. It is a three day event, including one day dedicated to food as medicine, in which Instacart, The Rockefeller Foundation, the American Heart Association and Alameda County Recipe4Health will discuss in a panel the extent and impact of poor nutrition on health and initiatives to scale the food as medicine movement in the US. You can learn more by visiting foodnavigatorusasummit.com.
For brands or retailers interested in working with Instacart to explore the food as medicine movement might create business opportunities for them, Mastrorocco says Instacart loves to innovate and is eager to collaborate.