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Supermarkets Missing Mark In Food Deserts

Empty Wal-Mart

Supermarkets made a pledge to increase their numbers in food deserts, but research is showing they are well below their 2016 target.

Supermarkets Below Target

As part of First Lady Michelle Obama's 2011 Partnership for a Healthier America, supermarkets vowed to increase their numbers in food deserts -- opening 1,500 new stores by mid-2016.

"Food deserts" are defined as rural or urban areas where at least 20 percent of the residents live in poverty and 33 percent of the people live without a supermarket or large grocery store nearby -- a store that offers fresh produce and meat.

Major food retailers can offer a wider array of fresh produce that smaller, corner grocery stores and at a greater savings.

But of the 10,300 new stores opened by the top 75 food retailers between 2011 and 2015, barely 250 new supermarkets were opened in food deserts.

Reasons Why

Supermarkets have argued that opening new stores in food deserts meets a host of challenges.

Security and insurance cost more in areas perceived as presenting higher crime risks. It may take more effort to train workers.

Another explanation could be profit.

Superstores typically open where there are other stores to compete against. With no competition in the area, it may not seem profitable to open a store.

Supermarkets open at a deficit, and must remain open for at least ten years to become profitable.

Read More:

  • Grocery chains leave food deserts barren, AP analysis finds (AP)
  • Millions of Food Desert Dwellers Struggle to Get Fresh Groceries (U.S. News)

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