Detroit’s Wayne State University, the Detroit Food Policy Council, and members of the Detroit Grocery Coalition have announced the Great Grocer Project, a program designed to strengthen relationships between independently owned grocery stores and their customers.
The program also will provide support to increase awareness and sales of health foods in Detroit neighborhoods.
The city has nearly 70 full-service grocery stores, almost all of which are family or independently owned. The program is funded as a three-year project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and for one year by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
It is led by the Wayne State University College of Education’s Center for Health and Community Impact, as well as the Detroit Food Policy Council. It is designed to promote grocers to improve community health and economic vitality through leadership and advancement of research, programs, and policies for healthy living.
The project will also train and host fellows in seven community-based organizations, which will adopt a grocery store in each of Detroit’s districts. Fellows will work with store owners to help them better compete with big-box grocery stores by improving their relationships and communication with customers and conducting food and nutrition assessments at their stores.
Partners and members of the coalition include the City of Detroit Health Department and Office of Sustainability, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., Detroit Food Map Initiative, Eastern Market, the Midwest Independent Retailers Association, Fair Food Network, and the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan.
“Too often, Detroiters choose to shop outside the city to obtain their groceries and healthy foods,” says Rachael Dombrowski, who jointly directs the project and is an assistant professor of community health education in the College of Education’s Division of Kinesiology, Health, and Sport Studies as well as a research associate for the Center for Health and Community Impact.
“We want to reverse that tide and showcase grocers who are providing high-quality, affordable healthy foods to their customers within the city. By working directly with store owners and community organizations, we aim to improve their relationships, the grocery landscape within Detroit, and the overall economic vitality of communities.”
Dombrowski’s research is focused on community-based programs to improve nutritional and health outcomes and advance food justice.
The project will also work with 10 top-rated stores to improve their marketing and presentation of healthy foods by improving the look and feel of certain areas in the store, creating recipes and shelf tags to display with nutritious foods, and facilitating environmental improvements.
“We have seen the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic within our communities, and we know now how effective good nutrition can be on preventing death from coronavirus,” says Winona Bynum, executive director of the Detroit Food Policy Council and co-director of the project.
“We have also learned how important having access to a healthy grocery store has been over the past year. We look forward to continuing to work with our Detroit grocers and our community partners to improve access to high-quality, nutrient-rich foods needed for good health now and well beyond this pandemic.”