A new report is making recommendations for minimum levels of healthy foods and beverages that small food stores should keep in stock, hoping the guidance will make it easier for them to offer additional nutritious items.
The report released Wednesday by Healthy Eating Research, which also offered stores marketing and pricing strategies to help encourage the sales of such food, is aimed at leveling the disparity of nutritious foods found among food retailers across the country.
Communities with predominantly white residents have two to four times more supermarkets and large-chain grocery stores than low-income communities, the report said.
In poor and underserved areas, access to healthy staple foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole-grain items is more limited, because food often comes from smaller “corner” shops and convenience stores that tend to sell pre-packaged food rich in calories, but low in nutritional value.
Programs do exist to help improve the variety and availability of healthy foods offered at current retailers, but while these “healthy corner store” programs have demonstrated success, they have lacked consistency in establishing standards, said Melissa Laska, PhD, RD, a co-chair of the report’s panel of experts.
“This has become a major issue. There’s really very little consistency in what is identified as a ‘healthy store’ and what sets that kind of store apart from other stores,” she said, explaining the purpose behind the Healthy Eating Research report.
“There’s really an important need to identify the minimum of healthy foods and beverages that stores, especially smaller food stores, should stock on their shelves,” said Laska, an associate professor and co-director of the Obesity Prevention Center at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
“There’s (also) a need to recommend how these healthful foods and beverages should be marketed to consumers. We certainly feel that carrying healthful food and beverages, but not effectively marketing them, is unlikely to have a significant impact on the purchasing and consumption of these items.”
The report identifies two stocking levels for healthy foods and beverages in small retail food stores: the basic level and, for stores already meeting that minimum, preferred.
Among the recommendations are those for:
Fruits and vegetables:
- Four varieties of qualifying fruits (up to two of which may be canned or frozen) and six varieties of qualifying vegetables (up to two of which may be canned or frozen)
- At least one vegetable variety must be dark green or red/orange, as defined by United States Department of Agriculture
- In total, at least 30 pounds of qualifying fruits and vegetables.
- Six varieties of qualifying fruits (up to three of which may be canned or frozen) and eight varieties of qualifying vegetables (up to four of which may be canned or frozen)
- At least two vegetable varieties must be dark green or red/orange, as defined by the USDA
- In total, at least 45 pounds of qualifying fruit and vegetables.
Dairy and Fortified Soy Beverages
- At least 5 gallons of qualifying milk or fortified soy beverage in at least 1 variety
- At least 32 ounces of qualifying yogurt
- At least 2 pounds of low-fat, part-skim, or fat-free cheese (only required if any cheese is stocked).
- At least 10 gallons of qualifying milk or fortified soy beverage in any combination of at least two varieties
- At least 64 ounces of qualifying yogurt in any combination of at least two varieties
- At least 4 pounds of low-fat, skim, or fat-free cheese in any combination of at least two varieties (only required if any cheese is stocked).
Whole grain-rich staple products:
- At least 5 pounds of whole grain-rich staple products (not including breakfast cereal) in any combination of at least two varieties
- At least four containers (with 11 or more ounces) of whole grain-rich breakfast cereal in any combination of at least three varieties
- At least 10 pounds of whole grain-rich staple products (not including breakfast cereal) in any combination of at least two varieties
- At least 12 containers (with 11 or more ounces) of whole grain-rich cereal in any combination of at least four varieties
The other food categories that received recommendations for minimum stocking levels were meat/protein and beverages. A full list can be found in the report here.
The recommendations were developed by a national panel of experts in food retail, nutrition and obesity prevention convened by Healthy Eating Research.