C-Stores Preparing to Step Up on New Food Stamp Requirements

Chains says they want to continue to participate in SNAP

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

WASHINGTON -- Convenience stores will have to start stocking a variety of "staple foods" with snacks and fountain drinks if they want to keep accepting food stamps, under a section of the farm bill, reported the Cronkite News Service. The provision, included into the nearly 1,000-page bill signed into law earlier this month by President Obama, would require that stores increase the "depth of stock" in four of those staples: bread or cereals, vegetables or fruits, dairy products and meat, poultry or fish.

Under the changes to the Food & Nutrition Act of 2008, c-stores that accept food stamps will now have to have at least seven items in each category of staple foods, up from three items per category required before. The changes also would require a perishable food item in at least three of the categories, up from two categories.

Lyle Beckwith of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) said most members of the group's board of directors have told him they will carry more items if it is necessary to comply with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

"It will really come down to the individual store, whether they benefit from SNAP or not," Beckwith, the association's senior vice president of government relations, told the news source.

He said some stores may choose to increase their stock regardless of the amount of food stamps they accept, while others may see the costs outweigh the benefits.

In Arizona, reliance on c-stores for groceries is higher than in other states, said the report, because a high percentage of the state's population lives in "food deserts"--low-income areas with less access to grocery stores. About 20% of Arizonans lived in food deserts in 2010, according to the report, citing a U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service definition that counts people who live more than a half-mile from a grocery in urban areas and more than 10 miles in rural areas. That was about five percentage points more than the national average.

Only Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico had higher rates of people living in food deserts, based on the most recent USDA data, which compared 2010 Census numbers with a comprehensive list of supermarkets, supercenters and large grocery stores from that year.

All 590 Circle K c-stores in Arizona accept food stamps, and that is not expected to change under the new law, said Terry Brown, a Phoenix-based brand and marketing manager for the chain.

"Being able to accept SNAP is a privilege that we want to maintain," Brown told the news service. "So, we will do what we can to take care of our SNAP customers."

Mike Thornbrugh, the manager of public and governmental affairs for QuikTrip, said he thinks most of the company's c-stores will be able to meet the new threshold. The chain has 104 stores in Arizona, primarily in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.

"We should be in pretty good shape, and, if not, we should be able to react fairly quickly" to meet the new requirements, he told the news service.

Kelly Jackson, a registered dietitian and professor at the University of Arizona's Department of Nutritional Sciences, said she sees potential hurdles for c-stores that typically stock items that are "higher in fat, sodium, salt and sugar." She said one challenge could be c-stores that are not equipped for the turnover rate of fresh produce, which may make increasing stock difficult.

"When you have candy in the checkout aisle instead of fruits and vegetables ... that's another challenge in a place like that," Jackson told the news service.