How can dollar stores improve access to healthy foods? CSPI shares policy recommendations

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

© Nodar Chernishev / Getty Images
© Nodar Chernishev / Getty Images

Related tags dollar stores SNAP Healthy foods

Dollar stores have become a popular grocery channel for lower-income consumers and those looking to combat inflation, while their lack of healthy and nutritious foods causes concern for health professionals and regulators, as shared in a recent Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) report.

Gauging how community members feel about dollar stores

Dollar stores have grown in popularity in the US with Dollar Tree and Dollar General operating more than 35,000 stores, compared to the 10,500 stores and clubs Walmart operates. Despite their ubiquity, dollar stores have increasingly been criticized for the lack of nutritious food options, which adversely impacts health outcomes for those in rural communities and Black and Latino communities. 

To find ways to bring more healthy choices to stores, CSPI surveyed​ 750 low-income consumers who live near a dollar store to identify shopping patterns and perceptions.

Overall, a majority of consumers (82%) held a favorable view of dollar stores, ranking them third behind big box stores and supermarkets. However, 58% of surveyed consumers who didn't shop at dollar stores said they did so because of the quality of products, product availability, store cleanliness and insufficient staff. 

Consumers were motivated to shop at dollar stores because of convenience, affordability, and selection of specialty items, and they felt that they could stretch their budget at these stores, including those who were on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Most consumers (81%) believe their dollar stores could sell more healthy options, and 74% said that they could do more to showcase them. Consumers on SNAP also supported providing fruit and vegetable discounts and creating an area in the store to highlight healthy options.

What policy can improve healthy product assortment in dollar stores?

In the report, CSPI also outlined several policy recommendations on the federal and local levels to create greater access to healthier foods in dollar stores, as well as ways for CPG brands to get involved.

On the federal level, CSPI is calling for improved stocking standards to better align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and SNAP retailer marketing standards, which can include creating a prominent location in the store for healthy foods and beverages.

On the local level, CSPI is urging for local governments to pass a staple foods ordinance, which will boost the stock of health foods in stores. Additionally, passing local healthy checkout policies can improve the nutritional quality of foods and beverages sold in an area.

CSPI proposed dollar stores on the corporate level to prioritize fresh food expansion in communities with low-income consumers and limited food access, and expand the stock of healthy items for shoppers to purchase. Additionally, CSPI recommends that dollar stores set and report on goals related to healthy food access, and offer financial incentives to SNAP participants to buy fruits and vegetables.

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