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Minneapolis health dept. helping 10 corner stores boost fresh produce offerings

The Minneapolis health department is helping ten corner stores try to boost the sale of fresh produce.

The state-funded initiative is part of a broader effort to combat obesity and chronic disease by improving access to healthy, fresh foods, especially in certain underserved neighborhoods.

North Minneapolis, for example, has only two full-service grocery stores and limited transit options for getting to and from them, which leaves many residents dependent on corner stores for groceries.

Health officials realized those corner stores could be a key partner in improving food options, so they decided to design a pilot program based on similar ones in New York, New Orleans and Philadelphia. The city asked for applications from 90 corner stores, mostly on the North Side and in the Phillips neighborhood. About 15 responded and 10 were selected for the initial trial, which started this month.

"We have so many corner stores in Minneapolis, it was just a natural fit," says project specialist Aliyah Ali.

The city helped coordinate with a wholesaler, Bix Produce, to distribute fresh produce to the participating stores. It set up training for store owners on how to properly handle produce to maximize shelf life. And it came up with a specific action plan for each store involving signs, displays and store layout changes aimed at making fresh produce more visible, attractive and affordable to customers.

What makes Minneapolis' initiative unique is that the city has a ordinance to back up the program's goals. In 2008, the City Council approved the Minneapolis Staple Foods Ordinance, which requires all stores with a grocery license to carry a certain variety of fruits, vegetables, meat or protein, dairy and bread or cereal. The Healthy Corner Store Program is helping store owners comply with those rules, says Ali.

A recent review of 35 corner stores found that most were not in compliance with the ordinance and that more than a third didn't carry any fresh produce.

The city plans to track produce sales at the participating corner stores through June 2011 to see if the program boosts sales as it hopes. If it works, officials hope to expand it city wide.

Stores participating in the Healthy Corner Store Program are: Vitalife Pharmacy Rx (4151 Fremont Ave N), Lowry Food Market (628 Lowry Ave. N), One Stop Station (1604 W. Broadway), Northside Food Market (3559 Lyndale Ave. N), Glenwood Market (1501 Glenwood Ave. N), Cedar Food & Grill (2600 Cedar Ave. S), Neighborhood Grocery (814 East Franklin Ave), Shabelle Grocery (2325 E. Franklin), West Bank Grocery (417 Cedar Ave. S), and Flag Foods (2820 East 42nd St).

Source: Aliyah Ali, City of Minneapolis
Writer: Dan Haugen
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