All_ebt, the Los Angeles startup that helps people on food stamps purchase groceries and other approved goods online, is going bi-coastal and adding a second pop-up store in Charlotte, NC this summer.
These pop-up stores are small, temporary and don’t carry a ton of inventory. Their primary mission is community outreach, and providing a physical place where low income families can come in and get in-person training on how to use All_ebt’s online payment system.
We wrote about All_ebt’s mission to expand the shopping options for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants earlier this year. The company uses Facebook Messenger and virtual Visa cards to allow low-income people to more fully participate in the digital economy by giving them the ability to shop online at places like Amazon Fresh or Safeway–something they can’t do directly with their benefits card.
“The people that are on food stamps aren’t ignorant,” said All_ebt Founder Eli Calderón Morin, “They have a higher capacity for technology than we assume. They use mobile differently because it’s their primary device.”
The new Charlotte pop-up store will open on June 15th in the Packard Place building. It will carry roughly 90 different Women, Infant, Children (WIC) items (milk, cheese, produce), and Morin said that the Charlotte City Council has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project. From there, Morin plans to open up even more temporary pop-up stores around the country.
But Morin isn’t just looking at geographic expansion, he’s also thinking quite a bit about the future of payments. All_ebt was accepted into the Queen City Fintech accelerator program (which also happens to be at Packard Place). That acceptance came with a $20,000 check that Morin will use to help build out the service, part of which includes adding computer vision talent to his roster. Morin wants that expertise to help build out an Amazon Go-like experience for SNAP participants.
With all these efforts, Morin is attempting to use technology to help remove the stigma and, in doing so, any embarrassment that can arise when shopping with food stamps. By opening up shopping opportunities online, low income families can shop from the privacy of their home. By connecting All_ebt with computer vision-driven Amazon Go-like payment systems, SNAP participants can grab what they need and go without having to go through any potentially complex administrative process of paying with food stamps at the checkout.
But Morin admits that an Amazon Go-like ideal experience is still years down the road. A more immediate use for computer vision was just created at the recent Facebook F8 hackathon, where All_ebt built a way for customers to use the cameras on their phones to get nutritional information and other data about items, including produce. That feature won the company another $3,000 for its coffers.
All_ebt’s work comes at an ominous time for SNAP participants. The new farm bill making its way through Congress would impose stricter work requirements for recipients. In February, the Trump administration suggested replacing some food stamps with boxed delivery of food. And more recently, the startup Propel, which let food stamp recipients check their account balance, has been hobbled as it ran into trouble with a government food stamp database contractor.
All of this actually makes Morin’s work more important, and thanks to All_ebt’s worth with the accelerator and Facebook, that work will become more widespread.