The chain is part of G.F. Buche Co., which owns and operates grocery, convenience, fast-food, hardware and auto parts stores in 21 locations across a dozen South Dakota communities. R.F. Buche, a fourth-generation grocer who has been in the grocery business since he was a child, took over the family business in 2000. Since the first Buche Foods store opened in Lake Andes in 1905, the company has not only expanded its brick-and-mortar locations but has also developed new ways to connect customers with the goods and services they need.
For decades, Buche Foods stores have operated on or near tribal lands, allowing them to serve some of the state’s more isolated communities – a commitment that Buche Foods has maintained even as other rural supermarkets shut their doors. Buche Foods currently operates eight stores on or near tribal lands. Its stores are part of the local food system, working with nearby farms and other partnerships to bring fresh produce and products to market while strengthening the local economy. The stores also employ several hundred individuals from nearby communities, including a number of people from the local tribes.
As an independent grocer, product sourcing can be a challenge, an issue that has been exacerbated by the supply chain delays stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. For those living in rural communities, where transportation options are limited, product sourcing challenges have also made some items scarce and difficult to find. For his part, R.F. Buche has been exploring innovative ways to get community members the items they need. In addition to expanding the number of brick-and-mortar stores over the last few years, Buche Foods has mobilized a travel trailer to get healthy food and essential goods to customers who are unable to get to the store to find what they need.
In 2021, with a grant from Reinvestment Fund’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative, Buche Foods began working on additional solutions to make healthy food accessible to local communities. Buche Foods is investing in secure, refrigerated food lockers for use by community members. The food lockers will be placed in the local community center in Marty, SD, and will be accessible year-round. Marty is about as remote as it gets – with just 400 residents, the town lies on the Yankton Tribal lands in Charles Mix County. Its closest grocery store is 16 miles away, but persistent poverty and a lack of transportation options have severely limited residents’ ability to purchase the goods and services they need to sustain their families.
Buche Foods plans to make deliveries to Marty two to three times per week from its Wagner store. Customers can place orders for refrigerated, frozen items and other essentials online via a smart device or by phone and retrieve the items when the deliveries are made. Not only will this provide a more reliable option for groceries, but it will also lay the foundation for a replicable model as Buche Foods hopes to install more food lockers throughout South Dakota’s tribal communities.
In 2021, Buche Foods also became the first independent grocery store in South Dakota to offer Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits online. The SNAP program, a public-private partnership, provides monthly benefits for low-income families to purchase groceries. The combination of the SNAP benefits and Buche’s food lockers will allow residents countywide who experience food insecurity to access fresh, healthy food.
Creating a more equitable and accessible food system for local residents is not the only priority for Buche Foods. The stores provide job opportunities and help to build a stronger sense of community through its partnerships with local farms, churches, food pantries, schools, tribes, and more. Buche Foods also offers “Underdog” scholarships each year through its grocery stores to high school seniors who have overcome insurmountable obstacles in their lives.
R.F. Buche hopes to continue to make healthy food options more accessible across the South Dakota communities that his stores serve. As he looks back on his most recent projects, he is grateful to Reinvestment Fund for believing in and supporting this work. In addition to the food lockers, Reinvestment Fund’s HFFI program also supported the opening of a store on the Pine Ridge lands in 2019, which helped create a grocery store for the local community.
You can learn more about our Food Systems Grants and Assistance programs here.