INWOOD, NY — Fresh snacks usually only available in large supermarkets will soon be found on the shelves of local bodegas thanks to a new program bringing healthy, affordable food to more New Yorkers.
The program, started by nonprofit City Harvest, will help bodega owners stock their stores with “grab-n-go” salads, yogurt parfaits, veggie cups and other food so that residents who typically need to travel to higher-end groceries to find healthy food can instead get it by stopping by their local corner store.
“By connecting the food access to corner stores, they don’t have to go far — it’s right in the neighborhood they live in,” said Diana Malone, a senior manager with City Harvest’s Food Access and Capacity Program. “Usually you only see these in fancy supermarkets, but their own corner store could carry those items.”
City Harvest already rolled out the grab-n-go food in one Inwood store, E&G Grocery on Thayer Street, where the fresh options sold out in just two days. The shop was one of eight in a pilot version of the program.
Soon, the healthy items, most priced around $4, will be stocked in 50 bodegas across the city, including two more in Inwood. Those stores, Club Deli and Grocery and Bello Deli Food, both found on Broadway, will start selling the fresh snacks in early February.
The bodega program is part of work City Harvest already does across New York City to bring healthy food and nutrition information to underserved areas, where residents are much more likely to nutritious meals with unhealthy food like candy or chips because they are cheaper or easier to get, the organization said.
“If they are getting a lot of nutrition education, [now] they are able to apply those,” Malone said. “When they do have a chance to purchase their own foods, they have an option for those affordable items.”
The bodega program helps owners who might not have the resources to bring in healthy foods on their own by connecting them with fresh-food distributors, Malone said.
City Harvest then provides a refrigerator if the store needs one, will cover $100 worth of unsold items for 12 weeks and offers dollar coupons for customers to help sell the new foods.
The set-up creates a low-risk way to start experimenting with which food customers like so that the owners know they can successfully sell it even after City Harvest’s supports leave after the 12 weeks.
It’s been particularly successful in stores like E&G Grocery, where owners the community trusts like Wilfredo Reyes, who has owned E&G for 21 years, can promote it, Malone said.
“[In bodegas] your store owner is the go-to guy,” she said. “They are family. People come in just to chat with them. The more we see store owners are engaged…there is that trust and understanding of, ‘He’s here serving the community, I could really believe in what he’s saying.'”