A couple of West Central convenience stores will begin stocking healthier food choices, giving customers the option to buy apples instead of candy bars, and vegetables and whole grain breads instead of doughnuts and potato chips.
It’s part of an effort to spur better eating habits and curb obesity and diabetes rates in one of Spokane’s poorest neighborhoods.
Success will be difficult. Junk food makers have spent billions of dollars designing, marketing and distributing snack foods loaded with fat, sugar and salt.
“The things worth doing are often the hardest,” said Natalie Tauzin, who is coordinating the Spokane Healthy Corner Stores program for the Spokane Regional Health District.
The program received $10,000 in federal stimulus funds to establish the project. Some of the money will be spent to hire purchasing and marketing consultants, make minor store improvements such as better display and lighting, and other tasks.
Chuck Redmon said he likes the idea of adding more good food choices to the offerings in his Dairy Mart at 2023 W. Maxwell Ave.
The store has long sold milk, eggs, bread, fruit and other grocery staples. The convenience store doesn’t sell cigarettes and only has limited beer offerings.
But like any store, Dairy Mart sells plenty of chips, candy, packaged pastries, pop and spicy pickled sausages called “Hot Mamas.”
That won’t change, he said. But he would like to give his customers more choices. He anticipates offering baby food, cereal and formula to help mothers in West Central feed infants better food.
For adults, Redmon thinks customers will buy more vegetables if they could choose from fresh and well-displayed offerings.
Selling produce can be tricky. Most foods at convenience stores are preserved and packaged and have a long shelf life.
That’s where the grant can help, Tauzin said. There will be help with pricing and advertising, and assistance to help the stores accept food vouchers through the WIC program.
It’s the same a few blocks away at Bong’s Grocery and Deli at 2040 W. Boone Ave., where Bong Cho rebuilt her gas and convenience store after a fire several years ago.
Her store is a magnet for neighbors and she is hopeful that the healthy foods program can help her sell more fruit, vegetables and whole grain breads.
She even plans to offer fruit and health food on the counter near the cash register – coveted space where shoppers make impulse buys.
Tauzin hopes the customers might reach for a banana instead of that candy bar as the program gets under way by Christmas.
Seattle has been running such a program at about 20 convenience stores for a year.
In Spokane the health district surveyed convenience stores in West Central and Hillyard. The store owners were asked to apply for the program. In this first round only the two West Central stores were chosen.
To participate the stores have to meet certain requirements in addition to county health codes and laws banning the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to minors.
The health district has been undertaking a series of programs to increase exercise and now make better food choices.
“I think this can work,” Bong said. “I’m very excited to try this.”