Food deserts & double jeopardy


Bit of an urban sprawl
Searching for the green in urban sprawl (Wikipedia)

On a recent trip to Latin America, we were sharply  aware of the great divide that exists rich and poor, between “good” and “bad” neighborhoods.

While this delineation exists in the U.S. of course,  it seems more marked down there.  As you drive through gargantuan urban sprawl, it’s like crossing invisible border fences.

One of the key aspects of this economic divide is the dearth of supermarkets in lower-middle class to poor neighborhoods.  These are the so-called “food deserts” that blight large cities, where not one fresh tomato can be found within miles, and where eating healthy is never in the cards.   If you are what you eat, then these folks will remain forever poor.  (see related stories, below)

It’s not only the lack of green vegetables that is troubling:  it’s the lack of green, period.  With mom & pop or convenience stores charging far more than traditional supermarkets, few folk have any money left after shopping for basic food items.

The recent opening of a Sam’s Club in a poor section outside Rio was greeted with a shrug and comment by a local:  “Stock up?  We can barely afford one toilet-paper roll at a time.”  The question then begs:  are food chains positioned to serve this population segment?

This week, the Journal of Preventive Medicine addressed this topic in a study which showed that poor, mostly black neighborhoods face “double jeopardy” when it comes to supermarket access.  Specifically, the study strove to address what it meant  to be in a poorer white neighborhood versus a wealthier black neighborhood.

Here’s an excerpt:

“…living in a poor, mostly black neighborhood presented “a double disadvantage” in supermarket access.  Unsurprisingly, poor black neighborhoods had fewer supermarkets than wealthier black neighborhoods. But they also had fewer supermarkets than poor white neighborhoods, suggesting that race still played a role apart from poverty.”

However, this was different in Latino neighborhoods.  Though they had fewer supermarkets than Anglo areas, Latino neighborhoods had more grocery stores than black areas, regardless of the  poverty level.

In short, the lack of supermarkets in disadvantaged area was not only an economic but a racial issue as well.  This infers that supermarket chains who traditionally profile customers by income level should look more carefully at the the race equation as well.

Accurate profiling of retail customers has never been as important, especially since today a “traditional family” can mean two gay guys with a dog.  For marketers, it’s a reminder that, more than ever, one size no longer fits all.

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