For eight years, DC Central Kitchen’s innovative Healthy Corners program has served as a national model for bringing fresh produce and healthy snacks to DC’s food deserts. Over the years, we’ve served as a resource for other nonprofits and private businesses looking to improve healthy food access in their communities. We’ve released how-to manuals and been honest about what’s worked, and what hasn’t.
Much of the success of our Healthy Corners program can be attributed to the individual store owner’s enthusiasm and buy-in. Tesfom, owner of Circle 7 corner store in Northeast DC, was one of the early adopters of our Healthy Corners program and has been one of the most successful. Before signing up to be a part of the Healthy Corners program, Tesfom was buying limited quantities of produce from a local farmer’s market. Unfortunately, this was not only cost prohibitive for his small business, but he also had to purchase food by the case, which often led to spoiled, wasted food. Tesfom was already looking for ways to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into his store, so when we approached him about joining Healthy Corners, it was a logical fit.
Together, with Tesfom and his staff, we increased the Healthy Corners footprint in his store from just one small refrigerator to include two additional shelving units, allowing him to stock and sell larger quantities of healthy food. Since then, Circle 7 has seen sales increase year after year. Some of their highest selling items have included mixed fruit, grapes, and strawberries. Between 2016 and 2017, sales grew by 574% alone and has continued to double every year.
Just as Circle 7 was one of the first stores to opt into the Healthy Corners program in 2011, they were also one of the first to participate in the 5 for 5 coupon program that kicked off last year. At select stores, including Circle 7, customers who spend $5 using their SNAP/EBT card receive a coupon for $5 of fruits or vegetables. Tesfom has seen a huge rise in sales as a result of the 5 for 5 coupon program and in just four months, has surpassed his total sales from last year. He sees this as an opportunity to encourage his customers to build good habits and feels confident that once those habits are established, his customers will continue to buy the healthy options. Even now, as the hot summer weather is underway, Tesfom noted that his customers are gravitating toward the healthy food options more than ice cream (normally his top sellers during this time of year).
Looking forward, Tesfom hopes to continue expanding the variety of the healthy foods in his store. He works closely with his customers to better understand what they like and don’t like and what they’d like to see in the store. Building sustainable partnerships with stores like Circle 7 and owners like Tesfom make our work possible and lead the way for programs like this one to grow while making systemic change in our community.