You all know that Im a bit obsessed with food. Yes, occasionally I dream about it. After a semester at the Kennedy School my dreams have taken a different tack. Now I’m not just dreaming about eating food, but I’m dreaming about how everyone can have access to fresh and healthy food.
For those of us who live in more affluent areas near and in urban centers, we are fortunate to have access to an abundance of fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables. We can purchase items that are not mass produced by the six or seven massive conglomerates using an industrialized process to maximize yield, minimize price, and eliminate nutritional value.
As an example, here in Brookline, we have numerous shopping options ranging from large supermarkets to small specialty shops. Both options carry a wide range of healthy choices. Yet just three miles away, in Dorchester, the only options are small bodega like stores. These shops mainly carry processed foods such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Manwich!! The few available fruits and vegetables are of inferior quality to what is available in Brookline. The true irony is that food costs more in our poorer neighborhoods than in affluent areas.
Now there are a lot of reasons for this and thankfully there are a number of ideas as to how we can fix this. Its important. Imagine not giving your loved ones healthy food every day and then sending them off to school to learn. Not having the right nutrition DOES negatively impact the ability to learn.
So here’s my loosely formed solution. I’d really like any of your thoughts or suggestions as to how to make this work. Or just tell me its plain crazy.
The solution involves the for profit sector, the not for profit sector, and in some cases the government sector.
Let us assume that most disadvantaged people still have access to the internet either at home or by mobile.
We can use large grocery chain’s (think Peapod) online capability we set up WIC/SNAP (food stamp) recipients to access online ordering and local delivery of groceries. This would also be open to non benefit recipients as well.
We know that Peapod will not deliver door to door in urban areas. My plan is to use local community centers as delivery/pick up points for groceries. Now grocers have an efficient drop point. This may incur some costs for appropriate storage and security but should be nominal.
The behavioral science aspect is when we access the want/should paradigm. We know that individuals tend to do what they should do as long as they are asked to do it in the future. We can encourage ordering by pricing food such that the further in advance people order, the lower the price of the groceries are. I would call this the Yodels/Broccoli paradigm. This combined with generally lower prices from large grocers will give consumers significant additional purchasing power.
This plan would attempt to encourage grocers to find additional ways to use pricing mechanisms to incentivize purchase of should items over want items. We know that gross margins at grocers are 25-30% so there is some ability to do this especially given the fact that these will be new customers (no cannibalization of existing sales).
Eventually, we would create capability to order pre portioned (but not pre cooked) meals delivered a week in advance. This would be of great help to lower income working families
Why do I think this will work:
– Solution involves government, non-profit, and profit sector
– Saves time for consumers who wont have to go to store
– Most people have computer or mobile access
– Grocers will see additional profit/market share oppty
– Easy to track via WIC/SNAP identifier
– Small capital costs (refrigerators in community centers)
– Long term health benefits
Again, its just an idea from a dream. I really would like to work on this but can use any help, ideas, or contacts that you may have.