ANAHEIM, Calif. — Small independent food retailers more suited to tackling the problem of food deserts — low-income communities that lack convenient access to fresh food stores — than large chains, according to Brahm Ahmadi, chief executive officer of People’s Community Market, Oakland, Calif.
"The larger the chain, the harder it is to be flexible at the single-store level in low-income neighborhoods," he said during a session on food deserts at Natural Products Expo West on March 12 at the Anaheim Convention Center.
"Low-income neighborhoods are extremely diverse in their cultural frameworks and the kinds of foods they like. So part of the challenge is redesigning store models to be adaptive at the local levels. We’ve seen independent, smaller retailers do that better than the chains."
Ahmadi is the co-founder and former executive director of People’s Grocery, a nonprofit based in West Oakland, Calif., that addresses the food deserts issue. His current project, the People’s Community Market, is an effort to establish a supermarket catering to the needs of the West Oakland community; it is currently in the development and funding phase, as detailed on the People's Community website.
Larger chains, said Ahmadi, tend to take a top-down uniform approach that supports scale and expansion. That makes them less able to deal with such inner-city challenges as workforce turnover and theft that are most effectively addressed at the local level. "We find that chains are hit hardest by high rates of employee turnover and theft -- they accept it as a cost of doing business," he said. "They are not able to focus on relationship building at the local level."
Retailers need to develop local relationships, he added, "so that the neighborhood is looking out on your behalf and employees are much more invested."