CONCLUSIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS
The challenge of providing adequate, affordable, and healthy food options still remains in Peoria’s limited resource neighborhoods. Negative health outcomes and associations of access to energy dense, nutrient-poor foods have been well documented among urban areas (Kirkup et al., 2004, Lake and Townshend, 2006, Laska et al., 2010). Low access to healthy foods promotes reliance on pre-packaged foods (commonly nonperishable and energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages) (Moore et al., 2012). Environmental and policy interventions that promote access to healthy choices may achieve the greatest benefits and broadest reach (Brennan et al., 2011, Frieden et al., 2010).
Increasing access to and consumption of fresh, healthy foods is no simple task given our complex and globalized food system coupled with community and economic development challenges in Peoria’s underserved neighborhoods. Systematic strategies are required to move the needle in any meaningful way. Developing new grocery retail options is one effort, but this should by no means replace the work of emergency food programs, nutrition education, or the numerous other healthy food access measures throughout the community. Neighborhood residents and entrepreneurs, businesses, government, and not-for-profit organizations must orchestrate efforts to foster a sustainable and accessible food system fueled by both private and public, for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises and programs.
With that comprehensive approach in mind, this report aimed specifically to explore and support grocery retail business development. Approaching food access issues via grocery stores and other food-based businesses is of particular interest as it has the potential to advance both community and economic development goals. Grocery stores increase healthy food access, improve the quality of life in a neighborhood, generate economic returns for the local business owners (if owned by a local individual or cooperative), provide neighborhood jobs, and generate tax revenue for public bodies. Additionally, grocery stores that choose to source local/regional food products can create new revenue streams for farmers and producers of value-added products.
Any developments that may arise from information gleaned from this report should be used first and foremost to serve the community and address the ultimate question: what can be done to provide appropriately priced and accessible fresh and healthy foods, and financially sustainable grocery businesses in Peoria’s underserved neighborhoods?
Create Network Map of the various organizations and projects engaged in food access and food systems work and increase collaboration and community engagement.
When it comes to addressing healthy food access in the Peoria area, there is no lack of interest, effort, and devotion on the part of numerous individuals and organizations. Efforts must increase to pull these various individuals and organizations together around a shared vision, strategy, and plan to close the grocery gap and the multitude of other healthy food access-related issues.
The Regional Fresh Food Council, Partnership for a Healthy Community: Healthy Eating Active Living, and Building Healthy Communities stand as just three examples of active groups with overlapping participants, projects, and shared goals. Greater communication and collaboration amongst these and other groups is critical to make the most efficient use of resources and move developments more rapidly toward completion. All of these groups must also increase their inclusion of residents and neighborhood associations living and operating within the underserved neighborhoods that programs and projects intend to serve.
Support and Incentivize Small Scale Development in the East Bluff and Southside Neighborhoods
Place matters, and the state of a neighborhood’s built environment can foster or deter business development and in turn access to grocery stores. The food environment influences consumer food selection and health outcomes (Beaulac et al., 2009, Gustafson et al., 2013). Without grocery stores offering healthy foods, chances of consuming those foods is lower; without redeveloping commercial corridors in underserved neighborhoods, grocery stores have few reasonable sites for location.
Organizations such as the Incremental Development Alliance focus on building capacity for locals to invest in their own communities through small scale real estate development. Groups such as Small Scale Development 309 (a result of a 2018 Small Scale Development Workshop hosted by the City of Peoria Innovation Team and facilitated by the Incremental Development Alliance) should be expanded and focus on inclusion of East Bluff and Southside current or prospective property and business owners interested in developing neighborhood markets or other food-based businesses while also improving the building stock and commercial corridors of their own neighborhoods.
Small-scale development should be further explored alongside the traditional finance tools mentioned above—as well as TIF, Opportunity Zones and any other incentives the City of Peoria has made available— to support grocery stores (or other healthy food-based businesses) locating within locally-owned real estate developments.
Corridor planning projects also present great opportunities for implementing tactical urbanism and street plans that begin to activate targeted areas in a neighborhood. Short term changes in a corridor can lead to long term community change. Current City of Peoria Corridor Planning projects in the Southside include the MacArthur Highway corridor and the Wisconsin Avenue corridor in the East Bluff.
Support and build partnerships with current and developing alternative grocery models for Low-Income, Low-Access communities in the region
A creative, collaborative, and community-driven approach is necessary and should leverage and network existing projects, programs, businesses, and organizations. Below are a few suggested places to focus in the near future:
The City of Peoria has been exploring the feasibility of mixed-use developments in the East Bluff and Southside neighborhoods that would address healthy food access, as well as other health-related issues and placemaking efforts. Peoria’s Invest Health team (supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), and the Connect Capital group looking at funding streams for local food systems, merged in 2018 to form the Building Healthy Communities team. This group is now further supported by the Local Foods, Local Places technical assistance program through the EPA (launched in May 2019 during a two-day workshop). This program aims to gather community input and support for a food-based mixed-use development to serve the residents of 61605, as well as an action plan for implementation. These teams have focused on alternative models such as ReFresh in New Orleans and Harvest Market in Toledo. Other cities such as Memphis and Indianapolis, have adopted a “live, buy, hire” approach which requires that decisions are informed by the needs and values brought to the table by the anchor institutions and residents alike. The city has identified a potential properties to house such a development at the threshold of the Warehouse District and the Southside.
Sous Chef opened in the fall of 2018 at the southern end of the Warehouse District. This small grocery concept offers customers fresh, local produce, local frozen meat and dairy, prepared meal kits, and basic staple dry goods. They are marketing themselves to both incoming Warehouse District residents as well as established Southside residents to establish an economically diverse customer base. They accept SNAP. The owners are actively involved in the Regional Fresh Food Council and have demonstrated a keen interest in community engagement and development, and a willingness to share their best practices and challenges and collaborate on future food-based business developments in the area.
Many rural communities in the region face the same fresh food access challenges as underserved urban neighborhoods. The Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs is working with small towns in the Greater Peoria region interested in developing “micro” cooperatively-owned grocery stores similar to the Great Scott Community Market that opened in Winchester, IL in 2018. As more towns engage in this work, a desire to network with other independent grocery stores to improve profit margins through shared distribution arrangements and the utilization of food hubs. The potential for collaboration in Peoria’s underserved urban neighborhoods should not be ignored.
Additionally, existing and developing farmer-operated food aggregation and marketing businesses (e.g. Down at the Farms, PrairiErth Farm, The Mill at Janie’s Farm) seek additional wholesale opportunities in the Greater Peoria region to sell fresh produce, grains, and meats. These and other operations are increasingly engaged in groups such as the Regional Fresh Food Council and the Greater Peoria Farm Forums to build mutually beneficial partnerships and build a strong regional values-based food supply chain. It is critical to further engage this community of farmers in any food-based and community focused business developments in Peoria.
Develop a routine for engagement of existing food-based businesses and community-based organizations
Conduct environmental scans to identify critical changes occurring in the food access and food security arena. With many different organizations actively working in this space, there is a critical need to utilize best practices in community planning and development to monitor changes and create and maintain strategic actions that best serve our most vulnerable populations. Increased collaboration of existing groups (RFFC, Invest Health/Connect Capital/Building Healthy Communities, HEAL, and more)
Biannual neighborhood reports
Consistent tracking of key neighborhood socioeconomic data to inform local business planning and community and economic development activities. These could be championed by neighborhood associations, district city council members, or other identified neighborhood leaders. Providing regular reports to neighborhood residents may improve their understanding of and support for specific community and economic development projects (e.g. the development of a grocery cooperative)
Focus on locally-owned and community-based grocery store models
Although emerging discount models from many of the national grocery chains show promise and should be further explored, the purchasing power of the Peoria neighborhoods impacted by the closures suggests the major retail chains may no longer find it in their best interest to locate their traditional stores in those areas.
Focus should perhaps shift to alternative small-scale models such as micro community-owned stores, partnerships with existing stores (e.g. the Healthy Corners initiative in Washington D.C.) and further engagement with existing retail grocers who have an expressed interest in enhancing community development and food access.
This report should find a primary audience through the Minority Business Development Center and Small Business Development Center to support further market research and planning with entrepreneurs interested in developing food retail businesses that serve Peoria’s limited resource neighborhoods.
Traditional development financing tools should also be furthered explored to assist local entrepreneurs in launching or expanding local food-based businesses. There is growing interest in approaching local/regional food systems businesses as a financeable asset class to utilize traditional tools such as revolving loan funds, loan guarantees, linked-deposit programs, and micro-enterprise lending.
Revisit and Update 2015 Local Foods Landmarks Report for Greater Peoria
Build upon the research performed in Local Foods Landmarks Report for Greater Peoria (Smebak, 2015) and work toward the development of a comprehensive regional food systems strategy and implementation plan. This strategy and plan can enhance our understanding of opportunities for supporting small scale and alternative grocery store models.
Inclusion of a regional food systems strategy and implementation plan in the Greater Peoria 2020 CEDS
A regional food systems strategy and implementation plan, containing specifics regarding grocery store access, needs to be included in the 2020 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) administered by the Greater Peoria EDC and submitted to the U.S. EDA. Explicitly addressing food access and the larger food economy in this document will expose the lead regional, state, and federal agencies and funding bodies to the issues and confirm our region’s earnest effort to improve social and economic outcomes via food systems. This may help in securing funding or other resources for food-based community developments such as cooperative grocery stores and food hubs.
Establish a full-time Value Chain Coordinator Position
A Value Chain Coordinator position is designed to build capacity within the regional food system increasing the scale, consistency, and affordability of healthy food products to community organizations, institutions such as schools, food banks, hospitals, and local grocery retailers. A Value Chain Coordinator can also help to identify new business opportunities for farmers and underserved food entrepreneurs and connect them with business development resources.
A focus on improving the regional food supply chain by strengthening business relationships through shared values—such as equity, transparency, and collaboration—could more effectively mitigate root causes of healthy food access and food security. A value chain coordinator would foster a supply chain that aims to deliver nutritious and sustainably produced food products that are widely available to all communities.
Conduct retention visits for food-based businesses, services, and projects
Just as business retention visits are conducted with large employers, an organization in the city or region should consider business retention visits with the region’s urban and rural grocery stores, food pantries, community gardens, summer food programs and any other business, service, or project connected to food access. Too often stores close, services end, or projects are folded much to the surprise and chagrin of community stakeholders. Regular visits, which would establish stronger relationships and build trust, would help to identify challenges before they result in disruption. Conversely, these visits can identify opportunities for expansion and collaboration. Explore desire for business development workshops for grocery stores to improve or expand operations.
Continue to monitor the local, regional, and national grocery retail industry
Using this and other reports and analyses as a foundation, an organization should continue monitoring and forecasting changes in the grocery industry and deliver a biannual report to the community. This would foster a proactive culture that is better prepared for changes such as store closures and support developments that have greater chances of sustainability. For example, the market data included in the original analysis did not yet reflect retail gap and surplus numbers following the closures. These and other data should be updated as often as the data allow.
Monitor job creation and workforce opportunities provided by grocery retail.
Retail jobs may be a primary income, an entry level job for high school students, or supplemental income - all contribute greatly to the stability of neighborhoods. A better understanding of the economic impact of food retail businesses in a neighborhood may help to increase attention by decision-makers to provide resources for these businesses.
Connect Retail Grocers with Resources & Collaborative Opportunities
Make market analyses such as this report more widely available. Connect stores to opportunities that are developing around the aggregation and distribution of local-regional foods and developing relationships with farmer cooperatives. Collaborating to develop local-regional supply chains could strengthen independent stores models, offer chains an opportunity to offer locally sourced products, increase the amount of fresh local foods available, and support the region’s farmers.
Develop Corporate Relationships
A local and/or regional organization should explore establishing dialogues and relationships with corporate offices of retail grocery stores. Human connection to decision makers at these corporations may increase the chances of them piloting alternative store models in underserved areas or engaging in community and economic development activities as corporate sponsors. Many corporations possess foundations as well as health and sustainability goals in their strategic plans and they may seek local partnerships and projects to advance those corporate obligations.
Examples of Emerging Offerings from Chain Stores:
DG Fresh (Dollar General)