Healthy food access in mid-sized cities continues to present a challenge to policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, and activists working to eliminate disparities in equitable access to healthy food.
Even in predominantly agricultural regions such as the Greater Peoria area in Central Illinois, the rise in food insecure populations is overwhelming the community’s emergency food system. At the same time, the closure of supermarkets and grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods presents a new challenge for obtaining affordable food.
Changes in the national retail grocery industry further complicate the issue. Just like any major industry, national and global grocery companies base their business decisions—such as store locations and product offerings—on U.S. consumer trends, population densities, commuting patterns, and other market factors in their ultimate effort to maximize profits and minimize cost. Because of this, business decisions by national and global grocery retailers may overlook the food access needs at the neighborhood level, especially historically underserved neighborhoods. The added challenges of e-commerce, increasing fragmentation of consumer food dollars, and shrinking profit margins in retail grocery further disrupt the marketplace.
The Catalyst for a Grocery Retail Study
In January of 2018, Peoria residents experienced first-hand the impact on grocery access generated by a market-driven decision of a national grocery chain. Kroger—the world’s largest supermarket chain headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio—shuttered the stores on Harmon Highway and Wisconsin Avenue. The stores served Peoria’s South Side and East Bluff neighborhoods respectively. These two neighborhoods contain the metro area’s highest levels of poverty and lowest levels of food access.
Following the closure of the Kroger stores, an action group developed a series of meetings led by Senator Dave Koehler. As a result of these meetings, participants in the Regional Fresh Food Council (RFFC) embarked upon a study to examine the impact of the closure on local residents and reveal potential factors that led to the closures. The data and research collected through this process are presented here to inform data-driven and market-aware decision making for local-independent grocery store business developments, grocery chain attraction, and provide insights that may inform food security initiatives in the region.
Driven by the Regional Fresh Food Council
The RFFC, formed in 2015, is a growing network of 100+ organizations and individuals working, volunteering, or interested in local food system development. The vision is to create a region with a thriving food system that efficiently produces affordable, accessible, healthy food, and acts as a driver food-based community and economic development.
This webpage serves as the official report and contains findings from the study which included a residential survey, interviews with managers of local independent and chain grocery managers, a regional demographic analysis, a regional market analysis. While the focus of the study centered around the impact of the grocery store closures on residents in the Southside and East Bluff Neighborhoods, the analysis was expanded to include additional perspective provided by looking at the Greater Peoria Region and national retail grocery trends shaping the market.