1. K-State home
  2. »Rural Grocery Initiative
  3. »Resources for grocers
  4. »Key research

Rural Grocery Initiative

Key Research

The Economics of Local Food Systems (PDF)

A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments and Choices.

Enhancing Access to Healthy Food in Rural Areas of Kansas (PDF)

The Rural Food Distribution Hackathon brought together an eclectic mix of stakeholders to produce innovative rural food access strategies. Hosted by CECD and the Sunflower Foundation, the event had three objectives: to break open the problem of cost effective wholesale food distribution to small retail grocery stores in rural, sometimes isolated, small towns; to define and think about the issue in new ways; and to imagine solution strategies worth testing for their feasibility in the state of Kansas. Topics discussed throughout the event included enabling small grocery retailers to compete with big box stores, sustaining the grocery store anchor business in rural communities, as well as sourcing local, healthy, affordable foods. For additional information about the outcomes of the event, read more here.

Healthy Foods and Small Stores (PDF)

Strategies to close the distribution gap in underserved communities.

Grassroots Editor (PDF)

Published by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors

Reconsidering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as Community Development

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) protects households from severe food insecurity or extreme poverty, buffers against certain adverse health effects, and exhibits a multiplier effect on the nation's economy. Nonetheless, SNAP remains contentious and benefit reductions are currently being debated. ON e new direction is to reconceptualize people-based SNAP allocations within place-based community development. Programs such as the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative encourage retailer development in underserved neighborhoods, creating healthy options and opportunities to reinvest SNAP dollars locally. By exploring relationships between these programs, researchers and practitioners can better understand how to enhance their impact on individuals and neighborhoods.

The Effect of the Inclusion of Groceries in the Sales Tax Base on Rural Grocery Stores

A study by Wichita State University

Locally Owned: Do local business ownership and size matter for local economic well-being?

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta about the economic impact of locally-owned business.

How The Health And Community Development Sectors Are Combining Forces To Improve Health And Well-Being

This article proposes the use of community forums for improved health choices.

Rural Grocery Stores: Importance and Challenges

Created by the Center for Rural Affairs, this document summarizes and details the importance of rural grocery stores to rural communities.

Rural Grocery Stores Use of Communication Channels: Exploratory Study by Carmen Brown

Thesis at Kansas State University Department of Journalism and Mass Communication; College of Arts and Sciences

This is an exploratory study looking at the communication channels used in the relationship between rural grocers and rural community members in four Kansas communities. The study is a continuation of research and efforts done by K-State's Rural Grocery Initiative to help the sustainability of rural grocery stores.This study is looked at through the theoretical lens of uses and gratifications because of the identification of communication channels that satisfy users' wants and needs.

Mediating effects of social capital and grocery stores on obesity rates in rural food deserts

Thesis at Kansas State University Department of Agricultural Economics; College of Economics

Over the past few decades, the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases has steadily increased and become a major public health concern. Part of the problem has been attributed to the large quantity of unhealthy (energy-dense) foods U.S. consumers include in their diets. Statistics on food environment suggest that some areas and households have easier access to fast food restaurants and convenience stores but limited access to supermarkets. Limited access to nutritious food and relatively easier access to less nutritious food have been shown to lead to poor diets and, ultimately, to obesity and diet-related diseases.

Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food-Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences: Report to Congress

Published by the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service

This report fills a request for a studvy of food deserts—areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food—from the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. The report summarizes findings of a national-level assessment of the extent and characteristics of food deserts, analysis of the consequences of food deserts, lessons learned from related Federal programs, and a discussion of policy options for alleviating the effects of food deserts. Overall, findings show that a small percentage of consumers are constrained in their ability to access affordable nutritious food because they live far from a supermarket or large grocery store and do not have easy access to transportation. 

The PA Fresh Food Financing Initiative: Case Study of Rural Grocery Store Investments

Published by the Reinvestment Fund.

This study gathered information through store owners in rural Pennsylvania on the positive effects investments in rural grocery stores had on the stores ability to access credit, stay in business, carry new lines of products and stimulate economic activity. These improvements benefit both the stores and their communities; stores gain sales and employees, and the communities gain food choices, jobs, and prepared meal options that are, in many cases, locally sourced.

The Nebraska Sandhills Food Desert: Causes, Identification, and Action Towards a Resolution

Published by the Community and Regional Planning Program at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.

Declining populations over the past several decades have created issues for residents in many rural areas. A serious concern is the emergence of food deserts, areas where people do not have sufficient access to nutritious foods. This paper looks at multiple aspects of the food desert issue in the Sandhills Nebraska region. Historical and current data was analyzed to help create a series of warning signs that an area is at risk for becoming a food desert. These warning signs are applied to the Sandhills region to identify at-risk areas. An inventory of federal, state, and local programs that attempt to address the food desert issue is then completed, and a comprehensive Nebraska food desert program is proposed.

Rural Grocery Owner Needs & Best Practices Study from Central Nebraska (PDF)

Published by the Center for Rural Research & Development.

With the decline in rural population and increase in the number of supercenter stores, the market share for Central Nebraska rural grocery store owners has decreased significantly over the last 30 years. This is compounded by increasing operational coats, decreasing labor availability and new supplier/distributor contract requirements. This paper explores best practices for sustaining and increasing market share and profitability and determining the level of understanding and need for business transition (selling a business) services.

The Online Grocery Opportunity (PDF)

Published by the Hartman Group.

Even with the failure and demise of online grocers in the early 2000s, consumers have never seemed to let go of the idea, in part because of their increasing immersion in all things Internet and digital. While often defined as the ability to browse and order foods and beverages online, digital food experiences themselves are a significant part of the business and can serve to either boost in-store or online shopping experiences. Many food retailers today offer some form of digital engagement with shoppers, with the majority offering relatively commoditized technical services (e.g., electronic circulars and coupons, online recipe lookup, meal planning, list storage). Those retailers that offer both a compelling digital food experience as well as technically proficient digital engagement are leading the market—whether or not they offer online grocery delivery.

Grocery/Convenience Store Start-Up and Operations Guide (PDF)

Published by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs.

This primer provides resources for entrepreneurs and/or citizen leaders to facilitate the start-up of small grocery stores and to give support to existing stores. This booklet is based on best practices from other small grocery/convenience stores.

Supplementary Reports:

State Initiatives Supporting Healthier Food Retail (PDF)

Published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

This document provides public health practitioners, their partners, and policy makers with useful information about the rationale for and characteristics of healthier food retail legislation enacted in the last decade.

Final Rural Grocery Report (PDF)

Rural Grocery Stores: Ownership Models that Work for Rural Communities (PDF)

Published by the Center for Rural Affairs.

This brief examines some common ownership models used by individuals and communities to address the need for local grocery stores in rural communities. It provides examples of such models and analyzes how those models address the challenges facing rural grocery stores.

Comparing the Structure, Size, and Performance of Local and Mainstream Food Supply Chains

Published by the United States Department of Agriculture.

A series of coordinated case studies compares the structure, size, and performance of local food supply chains with those of mainstream supply chains. Interviews and site visits with farms and businesses, supplemented with secondary data, describe how food moves from farms to consumers in 15 food supply chains. Key comparisons between supply chains include the degree of product differentiation, diversification of marketing outlets, and information conveyed to consumers about product origin. The cases highlight differences in prices and the distribution of revenues among supply chain participants, local retention of wages and proprietor income, transportation fuel use, and social capital creation.

Rural Grocery Shoppers: Do Their Attitudes Reflect Their Actions? (PDF)

Published by the International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management.

Using a longitudinal research methodology, this research investigated the grocery shopping habits of residents in rural communities in Western Stirlingshire, Scotland. In particular, it attempted to uncover the factors and attitudes that influence customers' store choice decisions and their attitudes towards their local shops. Findings revealed that although respondents held a positive overall view of their local shops, less than one-third purchased a high proportion of their food shopping in local shops. While it is unlikely that local traders will reverse outshippers' shopping behaviors, with a re-evaluation of their overall offer, they may be able to establish themselves as a reliable supplementary or secondary choice option, thereby maintaining the local shop as a viable function. Recommendations based on offer, service and environment ar made to differentiate local shops from the major multiples.

In Search of a Theory of Shopping Value: The Case of Rural Consumers (PDF)

Published by the Review of Agricultural Economics.

Although the challenges facing rural retailers have been attributed to competition and decreasing population, this paper defines the problem from rural consumers' perspective. It argues that consumers select shopping location on its shopping value, determined by its attractiveness and accessibility. The results indicate that locations closest to the consumer's residence offer the highest shopping value for groceries and other low-order goods. They also show that increasing gasoline prices favor local retailers. Rural retailers may use these results to implement differentiating strategies that increase their attractiveness, accessibility, and consequently their competitiveness.

The Need for More Supermarkets in Colorado (PDF)

Published by the Colorado Health Foundation.

Research demonstrates that rural residents living without sufficient healthy food access, such as those in Colorado's rural communities, actually pay more for food due to lack of competitive pricing from larger markets and transportation costs to reach the stores. Residents of areas with inadequate access to healthy foods are forced to shop in convenience stores and gas stations that generally do not offer healthy, fresh foods.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

Published by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food was created to help re-connect American families to American family farmers, as a step towards building vibrant local and regional food systems. The initiative, chaired by Deputy Secretary Merrigan, is the focus of a task force with representatives from agencies across USDA who will help better align the Department's efforts to build stronger local and regional food systems.

The Political Economy of "Local Foods" in Eastern Kansas

Published in the Oxford University Research Archive (ORA).

Alternative agriculture and counter-cuisine movements have grown to a strong cultural current in Western European and North American societies. In recent years, these movements have begun to converge and coalesce around the concept of localizing agri-food relations and commodity chains as a way of redressing the deleterious environmental, social, and economic consequences of what are seen as dominant globalized food relations.

Towards the development of a GIS method for identifying rural food deserts: Geographic access in Vermont, USA (PDF)

Published in Applied Geography

The food desert metaphor has been widely used by academics and politicians alike. While there is general agreement on what a food desert is in a relatively vague sense, strategies to identify food deserts, especially in a rural setting, using a systematic method remain undefined. The purpose of this paper is to contribute towards the development of a method for rural food desert identification strategies using the location of food retailers and residential units.

Starved for Access: Life in Rural America's Food Deserts

Published in Rural Sociological Society

Rural areas risk becoming "food deserts" as young families move away and market pressures continue to squeeze small grocers and retailers. Health can be compromised by lack of food access. Many do not consume adequate amounts of fresh fruits or vegetables, and they often lack adequate dairy and protein in their diet.

Rural Poor Have Less Access to Supermarkets, Large Grocery Stores (PDF)

Published in Rural Development Perspectives

Poor households in rural areas rely more on smaller grocery stores and supermarkets than do metro area households, and they may face higher average food prices and reduced access to food as a result.

Solving the Problems of Iowa Food Deserts: Food Insecurity and Civic Structure

Published in Rural Sociological Society

Rural regions include places where food sources are not evenly distributed, leading to areas of concentration and food deserts-places where few or no grocery stores exist. Residents living in poor rural counties with few grocery stores and perceptions of high civic structure are significantly less likely to be food insecure.

Access to Low Cost Groceries in Nonmetropolitan Counties: Large Retailers and the Creation of Food Deserts (PDF)

Published by Troy Blanchard, Mississippi State University and Thomas Lyson, Cornell University

The placement of 'supercenter' retail grocery stores, like Wal-Mart, have 'distanced' disadvantaged rural populations from stores that sell low cost groceries. Access to affordable sources of food in many nonmetropolitan counties requires access to transportation and may require lengthy commutes. Disadvantaged residents, such as the poor, the disabled, and the very old and very young may not be able to take advantage of the low prices offered in supermarkets and supercenters.

Beyond Food Deserts

Published in Journal of Planning Education and Research

This research found an absence of supermarkets in neighborhoods of color when compared to white neighborhoods. Nonetheless, this study reveals an extensive network of small grocery stores in neighborhoods of color. Rather than seeking to build supermarkets, supporting small, high-quality grocery stores may be a more efficient strategy for ensuring access to healthful foods in minority neighborhoods.

Grocery Store Access Patterns in Rural Food Deserts

Published in Journal for the Study of Food and Safety

This study examines differences among rural food desert residents and their access to grocery store patterns.

Rural Retail Business Survival: Implications for Community Developers

Published in Journal of the Community Development Society

This study suggests several possible actions for community development practitioners involved in efforts to improve and sustain rural retail business communities.

Impact of Wal-Mart stores on Iowa communities: 1983-93

Published in the Economic Development Review

This article outlines the results of a 1993 study that examined the impacts of Wal-Mart stores and other mass merchandisers in Iowa.

The Shop-Locally Discourse in Jefferson County, Kansas

Published in Great Plains Research

This study examines one strategy used by local residents of four local villages in Jefferson County, Kansas, to respond to recent socioeconomic changes. Termed the "shop-locally" discourse, this strategy is an exercise in persuading citizens to patronize local businesses, in particular retail businesses, instead of driving to the cities to spend money.

Rural Grocery Challenge Five - Dealing with Community Support (PDF)

Challenge Five discusses the lack of community support that rural grocery stores face. For studies about the value of shopping locally, please see the following articles:

Rural Grocery Challenge Six - Models of Ownership (PDF)

Challenge Six discusses different models of ownership for rural grocery stores. For related articles and different types of store ownership, please see the following: