The International Foods aisle at the ShopRite of Fox Street. (Photo by Alex Vuocolo)
Inside the the ShopRite of Fox Street, the deli counter and checkout lanes are busy with customers. Food access expert and fourth-generation grocer Jeff Brown leads a tour of interested professionals through the throngs of people, pointing out each of the store’s unique assets, from a full case of halal meats for Muslim customers to an international food section the size of a large corner store.
There are packages of thinly-sliced meat so people can fill their plates for less money. Cheap, bulk packaging is used to reduce prices for customers living on SNAP benefits. The seafood section is expanded to reflect the eating habits of the cultures living nearby.
Brown, CEO of Brown’s Super Stores, explains that these tweaks to the conventional supermarket reflect years of experience in food retail and years learning the community’s needs.
Photo via Uplift Solutions
The store also contains a health clinic, a consultant on staff to help customers gain access to entitlements, an in-store credit union, and a delivery service for people unable to easily access the supermarket.
“This is the intersection of social change that was needed and also a good business proposition,” Brown said during the tour, which was organized by the Philadelphia chapter of Net Impact, a professional network that was revived at the end of 2013.
The ShopRite is located in the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood. Hunting Park, Allegheny West and East Falls are also nearby.
Prior to ShopRite’s opening in August 2013, the area was without a supermarket for 20 years, according to Uplift Solutions. Uplift Solutions, also founded by Brown, worked with Brown’s Super Stores and ShopRite to open the supermarket.
Brown stressed that supermarkets can work in low-income areas despite low profit-margins, as long as the community feels they have some ownership over it.
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To achieve this, the ShopRite hires the majority of its employees from the community. It also spends four times the average amount of money on training to ensure quality employees and to encourage upward mobility and innovation.
Brown acknowledged that the supermarket won’t fix all of the area’s problems and that there are other ways to address food access such as healthier corner stores and farmers’ markets. But he did stress their are unique benefits to supermarkets which include variety, dependability and room for other kinds of services within the building.
A project manager for The Food Trust, Julia Koprak, was also on the tour. She echoed the idea that supermarkets offer something unique and even essential:
“Overall, putting a supermarket in a neighborhood that lacks food access is not a magic bullet,” Koprak said, but as a part of a comprehensive strategy, she added, they can have a big impact.
(Before and after image via Uplift Solutions.)-30-
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