Free shuttles can close the grocery gap

esses that disproportionately affect minorities.

The grocery gap in inner-city neighborhoods has long been of concern to public health experts. A 1995 study of 21 major metropolitan areas nationwide conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut found a third as many supermarkets in low-income areas compared with high-income areas. Last May, a study by the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College found three times more supermarkets per capita in high-income Los Angeles neighborhoods compared with low-income areas.

The supermarket industry cites higher security costs, greater employee turnover and a bigger shrink factor (theft) in high-poverty neighborhoods. According to Cassady, loss and retrieval of shopping carts -- often used as wheels by people without cars -- can cost a small grocery-store chain $300,000 a year. For shoppers, the grocery gap means traveling to another part of town to find a supermarket, or buying groceries at a small convenience store that may offer a poorer selection at a higher price. For residents without cars, the situation is especially tough.

These residents are left with little choice but to carry their groceries long distances, use precious resources on taxi rides or make multiple bus transfers, Cassady said.

Shuttle programs solve these problems for consumers -- and also improve the bottom line for inner-city supermarkets. Stores benefit from additional shopping trips from new and existing customers, increased sales from larger purchases, reduced shopping-cart losses, free publicity (signs inside and outside the vans) and improved customer and community good will.

In their report, Supermarket Shuttle Programs: A Feasibility Study for Supermarkets Located in Low-Income, Transit Dependent, Urban Neighborhoods in California, UC Davis researchers detail two examples of successful shuttle programs: Numero Uno Market, a small chain of supermarkets serving inner-city Los Angeles neighborhoods, t

Contact: Claudia Morain
University of California, Davis - Health System

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