WASHINGTON -- Inner-city neighborhoods are becoming a final frontier of sorts for supermarkets, offering lucrative opportunities for retailers savvy enough to tap the preferences of the varied demographic groups inhabiting these densely populated, but often poor, areas.
This was one conclusion reached by a panel of experts gathered here at the Grocery Manufacturers Association Conference on the Future of Food to discuss the lack of supermarkets in many urban areas.
"The suburbs have already been well-stored; the pioneers are looking at urban markets," said Hannah Burton, senior associate for the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that supplies supplementary credit and infrastructure financing to supermarket operators that open stores in underserved Pennsylvania communities.
Burton was joined on the panel by Lynn Brantley, president of Washington, D.C.'s National Capital Area Food Bank; LaDonna Redmond, president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Community Resource Development, Chicago; and moderator Odonna Mathews, vice president and consumer adviser, Cotandy Inc.
Indeed, inner-city communities represent $90 billion per year in retail spending, according to Boston-based Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, but many urban residents currently have few options other than convenience stores, drug stores and other small formats that sell mostly snacks and processed foods.
Several groups, including the nonprofits represented on this panel, are working to bring supermarkets into urban markets through public-private partnerships.
"Nutrition education, stimulus for more economic development, jobs and a variety of competitively priced products" are among the benefits that supermarkets can bring to a community, said Mathews.
Noting that a Philadelphia-area ShopRite recently obtained FFFI funding for a management training program, Burton said supermarkets often enjoy a symbiotic relationship with these areas, as the jobs and development they bring to a community frequently translate into customer loyalty.