As told to Kate Olender, Senior Director, Health & Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association
Double Up Food Bucks is an incentive program that doubles the value of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) benefits spent on fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets and retailers. Mike Beal, COO of Balls Food Stores in Kansas City, Kansas, implements the program in his 27 full-service supermarkets. Mike shared with us how the program benefits his customers, his business, and the fresh fruit and vegetable industry.
Tell us about your Double Up Food Bucks Program.
Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) is a program designed to incentivize SNAP customers and their families to eat healthier. Traditionally, when SNAP customers purchase $1 of local produce they earned $1 in Double Up Bucks, good for any produce purchase during a subsequent visit to our store. Customers can earn up to $25 a day, and can create a bank of earned dollars. This year, we’ve modified our program so that the initial fresh produce purchase does not need to be locally grown. We’re going to see if broadening the incentive in this way will increase participation rates.
Why is Double Up Food Bucks important to you?
We are a community grocery, and our community is very important to us. Double Up allows us to help customers in our community beyond our charitable contributions, by supporting a healthy lifestyle. Double Up also helps our local farmers, which we define as farming within 200 miles. Finally, new customers come into the store to participate in Double Up, so we’re seeing customers we might not otherwise see. Overall, Double Up helps our community, our local farmers, and our business.
Has Double Up increased sales of fresh produce and helped kids eat more fresh produce?
Yes. Our partners have conducted surveys, and they found that Double Up led to an increased purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables by SNAP customers. We know that nearly half of SNAP beneficiaries are children, so helping SNAP customers access fresh produce helps increase access for their kids, too. The program has helped increase local produce sales in particular, and overall consumption of produce. Respondents also indicated that they feel the program helps them provide healthier eating choices for their families. We see it as a win all the way around.
Has Double Up had an impact on non-SNAP customers, too?
Non-SNAP customers are also happy about the program. Many indicated through the survey that they feel good knowing that their tax dollars have supported the program, and are coming back to benefit the health of their local community. (Note: The program is largely funded through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grants program in the farm bill.) They also appreciate buying local, so even though they don’t participate in the Double Up program, they benefit from the local produce that the program helps make available.
What do other retailers need to get started?
I’m always happy to talk to others about the steps we took to get the program going, and what we learned. Having local partners is important for getting a grant to help fund the program, for implementation, and for evaluation. We partner with Good Natured Farms, Inc., the Fair Food Network, the University of Kansas Medical Center, the Mid-America Regional Council, and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. We started small, piloting the program in four stores, but it was so successful that we quickly grew.
Do you think the Double Up program will benefit other retailers?
I find it hard to see why any grocer would not want to participate in Double Up, or a program like it. It helps the farmer, the customer, and the grocery, and it results in healthy outcomes.