Access to healthy, fresh, affordable food is not just a matter of convenience but a cornerstone of individual and community well-being. Due to historic and systemic barriers in the United States—such as disinvestment, income inequality, transportation barriers, and food pricing—8.5% of residents must travel nearly twice the distance to reach a full-service supermarket compared to residents in similar areas with higher incomes. In addition, almost half of all people living in areas experiencing the most obstacles to obtaining healthy, fresh foods are Black and Brown. This is a substantially higher percentage than the 36% makeup of Black and Brown residents throughout the country.
As a mission-driven financial institution, Reinvestment Fund uses research tools, financial resources, and partnerships within communities to support community-led solutions to combat obstacles to food access. For over a decade, Reinvestment Fund’s Limited Supermarket Access (LSA) Analysis has been used to identify opportunities to strengthen local food systems through a combination of traditional full-service supermarkets and smaller format interventions that fill gaps in residents’ ability to access fresh food in their communities.
The 2023 update to the LSA Analysis enhances the utility of the tool by expanding the geographic application of the analysis to the entire United States and incorporating the most recent data related to supermarket locations, sales, and socio-demographics; as well as categorizing Limited-Access areas into three distinct types.
Case studies on Reinvestment Fund’s investments in Georgia demonstrate how the LSA can help paint a detailed picture of local food retail markets, informing decision-making on the most appropriate interventions to meet the needs of people in areas where reaching full-service supermarkets is challenging.
From 2010 to 2020, the overall number of Georgia residents with Limited-Access to supermarkets increased by more than 15% or roughly 9% of the statewide population in 2020; and in the Atlanta Meto-Area, the number of residents living in Limited-Access areas increased by roughly 22% during this period, nearly 11% of the regional population. In high-growth states and metro areas across the country, population growth tends to precede an increase in grocery stores. These overall increases suggest that much work needs to be done to address food access across the state. However, the LSA analyses also suggest that Limited-Access areas across the state and the Atlanta metro are equally distributed across communities at different income levels and with diverse racial and ethnic populations.
Between 2018 and 2022 Reinvestment Fund financed four healthy food retail projects in Georgia through the Healthy Food Financing Initiative’s (HFFI) Targeted Small Grants Program. This program provides grants for innovative fresh food retail and food system enterprises seeking to improve access to healthy food in underserved areas. In one example, HFFI supported the launch of a mobile market selling food to residents living in a nearby Limited-Access Areas in southeast rural Georgia. In another, HFFI funds supported the development of the new full-service grocery store in Albany, GA, with a business model built on selling fresh food at affordable prices.
The national analysis shows that Limited-Access Areas are disproportionately located in middle-income places in rural areas. The Clinch Memorial Hospital is in Homerville, GA, a small town surrounded by rural and remote communities. There is just one full-service grocery store in town and no other nearby food retail. The median incomes for residents in both Limited Access Areas to the north and south are between 80% and 120% of the state’s median household income, between $48,000 and $72,000.
The hospital’s mobile market will serve rural residents in the surrounding counties, including the Limited-Access area outlined in dark blue, south of the hospital. Support from the mobile market is an important piece of an equitable food retail landscape. Most residents in this Limited-Access area must travel around 23 miles to get to a full-service store; the healthy food options at the new market help reduce that burden. (See Map 1)