The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program

Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program

Shoppers and Trends

October 28, 2012

Incentive-based programs can help underserved consumers gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables and increase consumption, according to a new study from Wholesome Wave, a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve access and affordability of fresh, healthy, locally-grown produce to food deserts and other communities historically lacking in these items. 

The study looked at the purchasing patterns of 300 women and children pairs (children were between the ages of 2 and 12) participating in Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP) over a six-month period at five farmers markets throughout the country. Participants were receiving federal nutrition benefits and the DVCP doubled their benefits at the markets; those enrolled in WIC received cash incentives since the value of WIC benefits redeemable at farmers markets is limited.

The study found that over 60% of participants purchased fruits and vegetables at the farmers markets almost every week. There were also significant changes in shopping behavior among participants, as shoppers shifted from buying their fresh fruits and vegetables at supermarkets to buying them at farmers markets during the DVCP period; midway through the period, over two-thirds of participants were buying all or most of their produce at the farmers market.

Produce variety and access perceptions improved too. The majority of shoppers in the study felt that they increased the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables purchased on a regular basis. Meanwhile, those who had reported limited access to quality fresh produce reported that they purchased most of their fresh produce from the farmers markets – and at higher levels than those that didn’t report access problems. This suggests that access to fresh produce can be improved by the existence of farmers markets and mobile produce facilities that can position themselves in food deserts.

"Local, healthy produce sold at farmers markets is affordable, and very often cheaper than fruits and vegetables sold at brick and mortar stores. The food becomes even more affordable and accessible to federal nutrition benefit customers when farmers markets are set up to accept food stamps. At markets that accept such federal nutrition benefits, incentives, such as our Double Value Coupon Program, increase purchases on average 100%. In 2011, market managers also reported that as much as 1/4 of participating farmers market revenue originated from Wholesome Wave type nutrition incentive programs. In 2011, nearly 40,000 Double Value Coupon Program customers purchased FRESH HEALTHY PRODUCE from local farmers," says Wholesome Wave's Executive Vice President and Co-Founder Gus Schumacher.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that moderately active adults consume approximately two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables daily, but many people don’t get nearly that amount in their diet. The often high price of fresh fruits and veggies doesn’t help the matter, and consumers often point to price as a barrier when deciding to purchase fruits and vegetables. At the beginning of this study, in fact, participants listed both price and poor produce quality as their top two barriers to consumption. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, 69% of consumers said they would not have come to spend their federal nutrition benefits at the market without the DVCP. Another 23% noted that the program was moderately important in the decision to spend their benefits at the market. And perhaps most importantly, 47% felt that as a result of shopping at the market, their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables had greatly increased or increased (40%). Quality (93%) and support of local farmers (87%) were important influential factors as well.

"By empowering recipients of federal nutrition benefits to support our farmers, we're keeping federal dollars local and creating economic viability in our area. Thirty percent of DVCP consumers said they planned to spend an average of $28 at a nearby businesses on market day. In many communities, you can find unique, ethnic fruits and vegetables at the farmers market that may not be sold elsewhere," says Schumacher.

So how do retailers fit into all of this? Schumacher says that a big takeaway for retailers is that fresh, locally grown produce is in demand. The translation for retailers is that if they provide high-quality produce from local or regional farmers, people will buy it because that is important to them.

Farmers markets have been on the rise over the last 20 years. In mid 2012, the USDA listed almost 7,900 markets. And federal nutrition benefits recipients are increasingly shopping at farmers markets. In 2010, approximately 12% of all markets redeemed SNAP benefits nationwide – translating into $7.5 million in purchases, up from $1 million in 2007. By end 2012, Wholesome Wave estimates that their DVCP will be operational at more than 300 farm-to-retail venues, including farmers markets, farm stands and CSA programs, in 25 states and Washington D.C.

"The future of the program lies in the potential for communities to sustain the double value nutrition incentive program beyond philanthopic support. Right now, there is language in both the U.S. Senate and House versions of the Farm Bill that would provide federal funding to such nutrition incentive programs across the country, which would be a sustained stream of funding support to our partners. In addition, city, county and state governments are seeing the impact of nutrition incentive programs in their communities and providing funding to support local programs. Therefore, policy advocacy on the federal, state and municipal level is key to achieving long-term sustainability for the Double Value Coupon Program," adds Schumacher.

Click here to learn more about Wholesome Wave and check back for our December issue featuring a video diary of Wholesome Wave’s DVCP work at farmers markets through the eyes of Wholesome Wave's Executive Vice President and Co-Founder Gus Schumacher.