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Independent retailers play a major role in the national effort to build food stores in low-access areas.
“I was inspired by the possibility that what I do for a living could help people.”
— Jeff Brown, president and CEO, Brown’s Super Stores
Jeff Brown found his calling about 10 years ago when he joined an effort to provide low-income communities in Pennsylvania with access to healthy food.
“I was inspired by the possibility that what I do for a living could help people,” said Brown, president and chief executive officer of Brown’s Super Stores, a Wakefern Food Corp. member that runs 10 ShopRite stores in the Philadelphia area.
He got involved in Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a grant and loan program that encourages supermarket development in underserved neighborhoods, to help rid the area of so-called food deserts. These are classified as urban communities that do not have a supermarket within one mile; and rural areas, 10 miles.
Food deserts are prevalent, as 23.5 million Americans live in low-income areas that lack stores likely to sell affordable and nutritious foods. About 11.5 million of these people are living in households with incomes at or below the 200% poverty line, and 6.5 million are children.
Brown plays a big role in the national effort to change that. He is one of the biggest food retail crusaders against food deserts, so much so that he was invited to sit with First Lady Michelle Obama during President Obama’s January 2010 State of the Union Address.
Brown is now part of the Partnership for a Healthier America, a national version of the FFFI that works to address the nation’s childhood obesity crisis.
The PHA was founded in conjunction with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. The First Lady serves as the PHA’s honorary chair.
The PHA currently has commitments from 20 companies who have pledged to take steps to help curb obesity. The PHA prepares an annual report detailing the progress of its partners.
Along with participation from nonfood businesses like Hyatt Hotels, the PHA has the backing of several large food retailers. Wal-Mart Stores said it will open between 275 and 300 stores in food deserts by 2016; Supervalu said it will build 250 Save-A-Lot stores in underserved areas over the next five years.
Independent and regional operators play a big role as well. Along with Brown Super Stores, PHA partners include the Fresh Grocer, Calhoun Enterprises and Klein’s Family Markets.
Participation from independents is critical to the success of the battle against food deserts because of their deep roots in the neighborhoods they serve, Brown told SN.
“We don’t create a one-size-fits-all model,” he said. “We design each store in line with the neighborhood.”
Under his agreement with the PHA, Brown committed to opening two stores in Philadelphia food deserts. The first opened last year on Cheltenham Avenue, while the second is slated to open in North Philadelphia on Fox Street in September 2013. In the photo, Jeff Brown (second from right) and local dignitaries break ground on the newest food desert store.