In 2018, a SNAP-Ed Extension Agent in southwest Virginia, from Shop Smart, Eat Smart (Virginia SNAP-Ed, part of Virginia Cooperative Extension), cold called a store manager hoping to start a partnership. This store was chosen for a few reasons; the store accepted SNAP, was in a low-income census tract, and it was part of a regional chain, increasing the opportunity for future partnerships. The SNAP-Ed Extension Agent met with the manager and showed many visuals and samples of marketing tools during the meeting.
Looking back, the Extension Agent thought this approach may have been overwhelming for the store manage, but it worked! The store began placing Shop Smart, Eat Smart posters around the store and after 6 months, they decided to try in-store food demonstrations to promote fruits and vegetables. A SNAP-Ed Peer Educator conducted monthly food demonstrations along with nutrition education, which helped engage customers, since the Peer Educator knew many people in town.
The following interventions were used at this partner site:
- Creating a “Healthy Food Section” of the store.
- Conducting food demonstrations with nutrition education, featuring fruits and vegetables sold at the store.
- Helping the store to test new nutritious products, such as whole wheat tortillas.
- Posting shelf talkers, that are attached to the edge of a shelf, to promote low-cost, nutritious items.
There were many lessons learned from this partnership. These are a few tips for a successful Shop Smart, Eat Smart store/retail partnership:
- Focus on building a relationship with the manager first.
- Don’t rush to implement a number of program strategies. Instead, try one at a time and focus on those most suited to that store.
- Over communicate. Store managers are very busy and may not have much time to meet with you. At the beginning of the partnership, establish and maintain an agreed upon meeting time and frequency so the store sees you as a consistent partner. Don’t be afraid to repeat information at each visit. The SNAP-Ed Extension Agent gave a handout to the manager at each meeting that included the date, what interventions were done at the store so far, and a list of next steps with dates.
- Mix “comfort and curve balls” to maintain interest. Alternate the recipes that are featured each month; one month sampling a familiar (comfortable) recipe and the next month sampling a recipe less people may be familiar with, such as avocado radish toast.
- Start new partnerships by pitching a 12-month calendar. The first 6 months provide in-store food demonstrations and nutrition education. The next 6 months focus on environmental changes such as shelf talkers, posters or displays. Choose one or two environmental changes during the first year. After the first 12 months, reassess and determine next steps with your partner.
- When pitching to smaller grocery stores, explain that larger grocery chains may have dietitians on staff, however, this is not always true for smaller stores. SNAP-Ed programs like Shop Smart, Eat Smart can partially address that gap by providing evidence-based programming that is free to eligible partners and participants. These interventions can help create a culture of health and well-being for customers and employees.
- Don’t forget about store staff. Communicate with staff and include them in your goals and strategies. Describe the objectives of the program to store employees and encourage them to promote your efforts.
- SNAP-Ed Agents shared that the program aimed to help the store sell more fruits and vegetables by teaching participants about healthy foods.