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, Peoria County persists as one of the highest rates of household food insecurity in the state. With 36% of the population eligible for federal nutrition programs such as SNAP and WIC, the region continues to place a great deal of pressure on 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.
Rapid changes and growing competition in the national retail grocery industry further complicate the issue. 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 technological innovation, increasing fragmentation of consumer food dollars, and shrinking profit margins in retail grocery further disrupt the marketplace. These industry disruptions must also be considered in the pursuit of healthy, affordable grocery access in underserved neighborhoods.
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 by revenue, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio—shuttered the stores on Harmon Highway and Wisconsin Avenue. These stores served Peoria’s Southside 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 through a series of meetings led by Illinois Senator Dave Koehler. As a result of these meetings, partners in the Regional Fresh Food Council embarked upon a study to examine the impact of the closure on local residents and reveal potential factors that led to the closures.
This report discusses findings from the study, which included a resident survey, interviews with local independent and chain grocery store managers, a regional demographic and market analysis, and additional grocery industry research. 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.
Ultimately, this report aims to support the development of grocery retail options in underserved Peoria neighborhoods with local, regional, and national market data and analyses and provide recommendations of actions to strengthen the local/regional food economy.
The data and research collected throughout the study and delivered in this report aims to encourage data-informed and market-aware decision making for new local/independent grocery businesses, chain grocery retail attraction, and provide insights to help tie any future grocery store efforts to existing 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.