K-State’s RGI Working to Increase Healthful Food Options in Rural Grocery Stores
Rural communities often struggle to sustain core economic, nutritional, and civic needs. A central piece of the infrastructure sustaining rural regions is the small-town, independently owned grocery store. These stores are a source of healthful foods to the local food system, a source of jobs and taxes for the local economy, and a community asset in citizen recruitment and retention. Yet, these grocery stores often struggle to stay in business.
Where rural regions have limited access to healthful food, studies have found significant health issues. Poor access to supermarkets and healthful food has negative impacts on the health of rural residents. Efforts to increase healthful food choices are not unique to rural communities. The innovative technology of nutritional labeling is a way to impact consumers’ food perceptions and intentions to make healthier food purchases. Such a labeling system has not been examined in the context of rural communities.
Kansas State University and the Rural Grocery Initiative (RGI) were awarded a USDA grant to increase healthful food choice and strengthen rural grocery stores through nutritional education and labeling. K-State’s RGI has built a team of research and extension personnel at Kansas State University and the University of Minnesota for this grant. The partners include K-State Research and Extension, K-State Departments of Agricultural Economics and Human Nutrition, the Office of Educational Innovation and Evaluation (OEIE), and the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. The project is made possible by two business collaborators, Affiliated Foods Midwest, a wholesale cooperative that serves about 800 stores in the rural Midwest, and NuVal, a provider of the NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System. The project has partnered with three grocery stores in the rural Midwest for the project. Two grocery stores are located in Kansas and one in Minnesota. These include the Onaga Country Market in Onaga, Kansas, Hired Man’s Grocery and Grill, Inc. in Conway Springs, Kansas, and Gosch’s Grocery located in Randall, Minnesota.
The project integrates research and outreach activities to generate findings and resources to help rural communities realize the long term goals of strengthening local economies and food systems. The research component for the project analyzes the distinct and combined impacts of two interventions, extension nutrition education and a NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System. The outreach component of the project is the development of an effective extension nutrition education tool kit for grocery stores and local community educators to replicate successful interventions.
The interventions began in March 2015, which started with nutritional labeling in the Onaga and Randall stores. At the same time nutrition education classes and store tours were held in Conway Springs. In June, the interventions will switch. The results of this study will be available Fall 2015.