Hartford, CT — “Our produce sales have increased 8 or 9 percent!” raves Jeffrey Perez, general manager of the C-Town supermarket here.
He’s marveling at the spike in fruit and vegetable sales from the SNAP UP! program.
Perez, 27, started learning the grocery business from his father when he was just 10 years old. The largely low- income Latino community they serve includes many SNAP shoppers who couldn’t afford much fresh produce—until now. Through Wholesome Wave’s work, and funding from the Leon Lowenstein Foundation, SNAP shoppers here who spend at least $10 and purchase produce now receive a $5 voucher to buy additional fruits and vegetables.
The response has been staggering—including an impressive increase in overall SNAP sales of fruits and vegetables beyond the incentive amount.
But in the beginning it was his waistline, not his bottom line, that led Perez to SNAP UP!
“My father and all my cousins and I were trying to eat healthier and lose weight,” says Perez. “Then we learned about this program as a way for our customers to eat healthier, too. We started telling people they could buy fruits and vegetables instead of a bag of chips. It would be much healthier and be a better deal, thanks to the vouchers.”
To implement this innovative approach, Wholesome Wave and our local partner, Hartford Food System, laid the groundwork throughout 2015 by providing customer surveys, training information and marketing materials in English and Spanish. Perez says all that prep paid off.
“We felt comfortable from the get-go—Wholesome Wave and Hartford Food System made it seem like it was the right thing, and it was. It’s a positive thing for the community—and for our business.”
With affordability unlocked, sales have soared—especially of ingredients like cilantro and chili peppers. Spanish is the first language for 85 percent of Perez’s customers, and he says it’s crucial for these foods to be affordable, not only because they are culturally prized but because they allow families to season dishes with fresh ingredients instead of salt.
And it’s not only C-Town’s sales that will be soaring. This tiny-but-mighty pilot is just the tip of the iceberg. A 2013 study found that farmers markets came seventh on a list of places where Americans buy groceries. So while Wholesome Wave continues to increase affordability at farmers markets nationwide, this supermarket strategy will allow us to serve far more families, and ultimately scale up from reaching hundreds of thousands, to millions of consumers struggling with poverty. And our past and current work with other supermarkets like Coburn’s, Kroger, and Target has confirmed the value of meeting SNAP shoppers where they are.
Today Perez can barely keep enough fresh food in stock. “Before we started the program, we were buying from just two produce companies,” he says. “And now we have to buy produce from four companies to meet the demand.”
The program pilot wrapped up in late spring of 2016, and we’re excited to announce that it will be launching again in January.