'Healthy' Initiative Tackles Philadelphia Market

Five stores earn top tier status in battle against food deserts

'Healthy' Initiative Tackles Philadelphia Market

PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia’s Healthy Corner Stores Network is gaining some traction with five stores now achieving the organization’s top tier of participation, according to a recent Associated Press report.

The Healthy Corner Stores Network aims to teach residents about nutritious eating through grocery promotions and outreach efforts like cooking demonstrations, typically in small grocery or convenience stores.

"We try to get people to try a sample, and in that process we talk to them about eating whole grains, and trying out new things, and showing them where healthy items are in their corner store," program educator Maria Vanegas told AP.

As an example, the news service highlighted Carmen Medina's Indiana Food Market.

Customers were recently offered slices of pizza made on-site with store-bought ingredients: whole-wheat tortillas, tomato sauce, part-skim mozzarella cheese and diced green peppers and onions.

Led by the Philadelphia health department and The Food Trust, the corner store initiative has enlisted about 650 of the city's 2,000 or so corner stores to broaden their inventory of fresh produce, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

The corner store initiative offers four levels of participation. At the lowest tier, a store owner could get a $100 incentive to introduce four healthy items and receive training on how to buy, price and promote fresh produce. Higher-level stores get free mini-refrigeration units, special shelving and signage.

Last summer, Indiana Food Market became one of five stores at the top tier. Medina, the manager, got the colorful new exterior awnings, an eye-catching refrigerated produce case and a special display for whole grains. English and Spanish signs steer the mostly Latino clientele to healthier choices. And the market got a "Fresh Corner" kiosk for pamphlets, recipe cards and cooking demonstrations, where Vanegas made pizza in a toaster oven.

The program has been well received by customers, Medina told AP, noting they often ask when the food lessons are scheduled. Oatmeal, fruit and whole-grain rice have become big sellers, she added.

"People have started to buy new things and healthy things, and it's really great," Medina said in Spanish, according to a translation by Vanegas.