Detroit's Food Economy

Supply and Demand: A City Craving Healthy Food

by: Laura Weber-Davis

February 7, 2013


Produce at a local Detroit grocery. Photo Credit: Matt Elliott, WDET

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“Most parents want to do right by their kids, so if children develop an interest in eating a healthier diet they’re likely to lead their parents on that path.”

- Dan Carmody


Retail attracts retail in both positive and negative directions. If a well-run full-service grocery chain sees well-run grocery-chain competitors operating successfully in an area, that grocer will move in and flood the market with options. That’s according to researcher Mari Gallagher, who says the same is true for stores that don’t carry a good variety of healthy foods. She says grocers may not recognize great opportunities within the market, and the imperfect market keeps full-service grocery stores from moving into Detroit.

WDET’s Laura Weber-Davis speaks with Gallagher about why supply matters, and with Eastern Market Corporation’s Dan Carmody about how demand for healthy food can be created.



Guests:
Mari Gallagher, food-system researcher, Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group
Dan Carmody, President, Eastern Market Corporation

This series is made possible by the generous support of our Sustaining Members. Because of you, WDET can bring this critical story to everyone in our region.

Transcript
Hundreds-of-millions of dollars are estimated to leave the city of Detroit every year and are spent at supermarkets in neighboring communities. Local food-access experts say that figure shows there is a huge demand for more and better access to full-service grocery stores in Detroit.

WDET’s Laura Weber-Davis continues our series on Detroit’s food economy… with this look at the supply and demand sides of the city’s food system.

…SOQ.

Picture this: two economists are walking down the street and see a 10-dollar bill. As they pass it one says to the other “Hey, wasn’t that a 10-dollar bill?” and the other says “No, if it were a 10-dollar, someone would have picked it up by now.”

Grocery retail and food system researcher Mari Gallagher says that market mindset is part of what keeps full-service grocery stores from moving into Detroit.

Mari – diamonds “The grocery store executive might go out and look for new markets that might not have any grocery stores and think ‘Well, there must not be a market for healthy food…’” Gallagher says that assumes the market is always perfect.

“…As great as our market system is – and it is great – it is not perfect, and it overlooks diamonds in the rough where there could already be demand, but it’s not obvious.”

Gallagher says retail attracts retail, in both positive and negative directions. If a well-run full-service grocery chain sees well-run grocery chain competitors operating successfully in an area, that grocer will move in and flood the market with options. Gallagher says the same is true for stores that don’t carry a good variety of healthy foods. She calls these stores – many of which accept food stamps but don’t meet federal standards – bad apples.

Mari – bad apples “Even if over all, the bad apples are a small percentage, that small percentage concentrates as a pretty large percentage in some disadvantaged neighborhoods across the U.S. And that’s what we’re really concerned about from an economic development standpoint, and a health standpoint.”

Gallagher estimates only about 8 percent of food stamp retailers in Detroit are full-service grocers. She says because of that small percentage, and because the market isn’t always perfect…

Mari – market “…we have to find ways to stimulate the market for healthful food choices.”

Gallagher says that can be done through a strong federal food assistance program. She says community activists, leaders and businesses should also support improvements to existing convenience stores… to create a bodega-style system of small, full-service stores throughout the city, rather than relying on big-box grocery stores to move in. And, she says, community support and nutrition education could help create more demand for healthy food in neighborhoods.

Dan – carrot “The experiential education of actually pulling the carrot out of the ground and knowing that’s supposed to be normal and not the Twinkies… that’s huge.”

That’s Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corporation. He says getting kids to enjoy healthy food is important because they’re impressionable and will carry healthy eating habits throughout life. He says kids are most engaged with food when they pull it out of the ground and prepare it themselves.

Dan – full circle “And then the important thing is the full circle. So you’ve got the garden that connects to—“

--schools such as Detroit Public Schools, that incorporate gardening with science, and serve fresh Michigan produce in the lunchroom. Carmody says fewer kids will scrape fruits and veggies off their lunch trays if they’re engaged with how food is grown.

“—And then how do you get that message home to mom and dad so they can reinforce that message.”

After that, parents go to the neighborhood grocer to buy the healthy food, and the demand is created at the retail level. Carmody says food system advocates should take notes from McDonalds on how to increase demand.

Dan – McDonalds “Ronald McDonald exists to change kids eating habits…”

…first you attract the kids, then you attract the parents.

“…Most parents want to do right by their kids, so if children develop an interest in eating a healthier diet, they’re likely to lead their parents on that path.” “So if you get a kid to complain to their parents that they want to go to Eastern Market rather than McDonalds…” “That would be a great problem to have, wouldn’t it?” [laughter]

A few years ago Wayne State University program SEED Wayne surveyed 250 corner stores to see if they would participate in an initiative to increase neighborhood access to fresh produce. Most said “no.” Around 20 stores agreed to participate, with limited success.

I’m Laura Weber-Davis. WDET News.