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Kroger's mobile market brings fresh food to Louisville neighborhoods without access

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Kroger's mobile market brings fresh food to Louisville neighborhoods without access

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The Courier Journal's continued coverage of food insecurity in Louisville is supported by the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism's 2018 National Fellowship.

Other stories in this series include:

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Shelby Park's Save-A-Lot closed with little warning to neighbors

Sorry, we're closed: How everyone is hurt when grocery stores shut down

In 30 seconds: What you should know about food deserts in Louisville

Tuition or food? How college kids use food pantries to help food insecurity

Louisville has a fresh food problem. Can we fix it?

'A real crisis in Louisville': Readers respond to food desert series

How a low-income Louisville neighborhood became a fresh food oasis

How can cities end food deserts? Here are 4 solutions that worked

Louisville families shouldn't be struggling to find fresh food

No grocery store in your neighborhood? Join forces to create one

People can't get to a grocery store easily. So these volunteers are driving them

Would you shop at a mobile grocery store? Kroger is betting on it 

Where You Live Determines How Much Your Eggs Cost at Kroger

How some residents get their food in Louisville's food deserts

Can indoor farming fix food deserts? These Louisville students think so

Kentucky's hunger initiative earns national attention. But thousands still need food

How these Louisville companies are helping employees buy affordable fresh produce

Downtown Louisville is growing rapidly. So why doesn't it have a grocery store?

Louisville kids are still at risk for lead poisoning. Here's how healthy eating can help

When will downtown Louisville get a grocery store? Here's what we found

Everything you need to know about Kroger's mobile grocery store in Louisville

This nonprofit leader is giving west Louisville the black-owned grocery it 'deserves'

Mobile market brings fresh food to Louisville communities without grocery
Timothy D. Easley/Special to Courier Journal
Thursday, August 15, 2019

The trailer pulled into an empty parking lot just before 2 p.m. on a Tuesday — its brightly colored exterior standing out among the surrounding brick of the City View Park Apartments in Louisville's Russell neighborhood.

On either side, picturesque fruits and vegetables spilled out of brown paper bags, illustrating the fresh produce inside.

It was the second stop of the day for the Zero Hunger Mobile Market. And despite its striking appearance, organizers were uneasy whether people would stop by.

They didn't have to worry long. Within minutes, residents in the area began wandering up to the 44-foot trailer, a partnership between Kroger and Dare to Care Food Bank.

Their eyes widened as they stepped inside the "single-aisle grocery store," an experimental format that somehow fits nearly 200 different products.

"OK, Kroger," Debra Stevenson said as she took in the market. "I'm glad y'all brought it to the neighborhood so I don't have to drive to the store."

For more than a year, Kroger and Dare to Care have worked to create the mobile market, which will travel among Louisville neighborhoods five days each week.

More: Everything you need to know about Kroger's mobile grocery store in Louisville

The goal of the market is to provide better access to fresh food for people who can't easily get to a store for a number of reasons, including physical disabilities and lack of transportation.

The market is based on a similar program in Milwaukee. And it could become a model for other cities that want to address food access issues in their own communities.

"It does not have to be a brick-and-mortar store for us to provide access to healthy food for people," said Erin Grant, a spokeswoman with Kroger's Louisville division. "That might not always be the solution. There really are other ways."

In 2017, more than 116,000 people living in Jefferson County were considered food insecure, meaning they didn't have reliable access to healthy affordable food.

That is fewer than the 122,000 people who were food insecure in 2015. But it still makes up more than 15% of Jefferson County's population, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks nationwide.

Food insecurity is linked to higher rates of illness and lowered life expectancy in predominantly low-income neighborhoods. And it costs taxpayers in Louisville and around the nation millions of dollars in emergency health care.

The mobile market should address those issues by bringing healthier food directly to the most affected communities, organizers said.

"You might not find 100% of what's on your grocery list, but you sure are going to be able to make great, nutritious meals for your family," said Annette Ball, chief programs officer for Dare to Care.

Funding for the market came from Kroger, Dare to Care and Louisville Forward, the city's economic development arm, which committed $60,000 to the project.

Ball said Dare to Care spent more than $140,000 to purchase a truck and the trailer, while Kroger paid to outfit the market and hire three employees to run it.

Grant wouldn't say how much the company invested but said it was "significant" because Kroger wanted customers to feel like they were shopping in a regular store.

Within the market, two refrigerated units hold fresh meat, dairy products and eggs, among other items.

A row of shelves contains baking ingredients, pasta, cereal and other pantry staples. And an entire wall displays fruits and vegetables, from mustard greens to clementines.

Grocery baskets are available at the entrance, and near the exit, a checkout station lets customers watch as their total adds up — with Kroger Reward sale prices automatically included.

"We wanted them to still have a similar experience as our customers do when they shop a store," Grant said. "We wanted there to still be that warmth and newness and that brightness to it."

Grant and Ball said the organizations are requesting feedback from customers on items they want to see in the market and places it should visit.

Through August, the market will make 35 stops at 29 locations, including low-income housing complexes, schools, parks and community centers.

More coverage: Why doesn't downtown Louisville have a grocery store?

Ball said Dare to Care chose the initial locations based on where it saw the largest need and where it already had established partnerships within the community.

For example, the market will make two stops at California Square, a low-income apartment complex where service coordinator Becky Peak has long advocated for better food access.

"My goal is to make sure that everyone who lives here in this building, particularly, is not hungry," Peak said. "… So the more options we can give them for choosing their own food, the better off they are."

Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee, said customers who visit the Pick 'n Save Fresh Picks Mobile Market are generally interested in buying affordable, healthy food — and they don't typically ask for items such as cigarettes, alcohol or chips.

The task force, in partnership with a grocery store owned by Kroger, operates two mobile markets that make 10 stops weekly around the city. The markets serve 30 to 50 people at each location, with average sales between $500 and $1,000, Tussler said.

Operating the market costs less than to supply a food pantry, Tussler said, and the traveling store brings dignity to people who want to pay with their own resources.

"The issue isn't that they need a food pantry, because they have money," Tussler said. "The issue is they can't get to the store. So the store comes to them."

See also: Is crime driving grocery stores out of Louisville's low-income communities?

Louisville Forward director Rebecca Fleischaker has spent the past two years speaking with grocery operators about what it will take to improve food access across Louisville.

Her team is working with several developers to identify operators who might want to open bodega-style stores within underserved neighborhoods.

But brick-and-mortar stores can't always be the answer, she said. The grocery business is exceedingly difficult, and small profit margins make opening new stores increasingly tough.

"It's going to take something that is not what we know now to work," she said.

Destiny Moore lives near California Square and shopped at the Louisville market during its first week on the road.

"This is real nice and neat," she said, groceries in hand.

"Most people don't have cars, as you can see. … They took a lot of Krogers away or it's too far to walk or it's too hot, so it's real convenient and nice."

[This article was originally published by CourierJournal.]