Spearheading the two-year test run will be Amazon and ShopRite, which will serve New York City, with Walmart providing service to areas in upstate New York. The pilot will allow participants to use their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to pay for the cost of the groceries, but not for service or delivery charges.
Additional retailers, including Hy-Vee, Safeway, Dash’s Market, Wright’s Markets and FreshDirect, are on board to participate in the pilot in coming months. It will eventually be expanded to other areas of New York, as well as to Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.
The 2014 Farm Bill gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval to "conduct and evaluate a pilot for online purchasing prior to national implementation," but the 2018 Farm Bill helped push the program forward by authorizing online SNAP sales. At the time of the 2018 Farm Bill's passing, Hannah Walker, senior director of technology and nutrition for the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which worked with the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service for the past five years, told Winsight Grocery Business that online sales could help individuals such as working parents and the elderly.
“It’s going to be cool to see how this changes in the innovation space for SNAP over the next five years,” Walker said. She also predicted mobile EBT payment technology will surface in the near future.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said people who receive SNAP benefits should have the "opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food—by ordering and paying for groceries online.”
“As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients,” he said.
The USDA will monitor how these pilots increase food access and customer service, especially to those who experience challenges in visiting a brick-and-mortar store, Perdue said.
Industry partners also stepped out in support of the pilot, including Walker, who urged that the pilot “explores the feasibility of using SNAP benefits to shop and pay for groceries online.” FMI research has shown that in just five to seven years, as many as 70% of U.S. consumers will regularly purchase consumer packaged goods online, she said.
“This pilot program allows individuals of all ages, demographics and accessibility using SNAP to have the same access as other shoppers using e-commerce programs daily,” she said, calling the pilot the “initial step toward a full nationwide deployment of online SNAP sales to improve access and options for SNAP customers.”
A version of this story ran in CSP's sister publication Winsight Grocery Business.