A study out from Yale University this week found that online grocery shopping could help people in food deserts get access to more healthy food choices.
The study, led by Eric, J. Brandt, MD and titled Availability of Grocery Delivery to Food Deserts in States Participating in the Online Purchase Pilot, looked at the eight states that are part of the Online Purchase Pilot (OPP) provision of the 2014 Farm Bill that allows people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase groceries online. That online buying provision could go nationwide after the trial ends in 2021.
From Yale’s study:
Among 8 states participating in the USDA’s OPP, online grocery purchasing and delivery services were available to more than 90% of urban food desert census tracts and SNAP households within them, but these services were rarely available in rural food desert census tracts. Our results suggest that existing grocery delivery networks, when combined with online grocery-purchasing, could potentially strengthen access to groceries in many areas where it is most lacking. However, grocery delivery fees are not covered by SNAP and may deter online purchasing.4 To help maximize OPP benefits in food desert census tracts, the USDA could consider extending SNAP benefits for both online grocery purchasing (as in the OPP) and delivery, although rural areas may be least affected.
The eight states examined were Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington.
Brandt’s study is coming out at the same time the Trump administration is looking to tighten rules around who can receive SNAP benefits. Just today, the Department of Agriculture gave final approval of that would kick 755,000 out of the federal food stamp program. As The New York Time reports:
The rule, which was proposed in February, makes it more difficult for states to allow able-bodied adults without children to receive food assistance for more than three months out of a 36-month period without working.
Thankfully, for those on the SNAP program living in a food desert, All_ebt is a startup that can help facilitate online grocery shopping. All_ebt uses a combination of Facebook Messenger and virtual Visa cards that allow people to purchase SNAP approved items online (though there is still the matter of the delivery fee). Earlier this year, during the government shutdown, All_ebt also released budgeting tools to help those on SNAP manage their money.
While online grocery shopping is still a small part of overall grocery purchases, retailers are putting in the infrastructure to make ordering and fulfillment faster and more automated. Things like robotic micro-fulfillment promise to turnaround online orders for delivery faster. If more people in food deserts can get groceries delivered same day, that’s more revenue for the retailer. More importantly, it can mean an easier way to a healthier life for those living on SNAP.
As Brandt told Yale News “If you live in a food desert, online grocery delivery really stands out as a way to get healthy food that potentially can save your life.”