Grocery chains leave food deserts barren

Posted at 8:44 AM, Dec 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-07 09:44:46-05

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Several major food retail companies pledged to build or renovate more stores in or near food deserts by mid-2016 as part of Michelle Obama's campaign to reduce childhood obesity. But only Wal-Mart and an independent store that is part of a cooperative have met their goals for the first lady's group, Partnership for a Healthier America.

RELATED: Map of local food deserts

The Partnership counted a store as having qualified toward a retailer's goal if it was in a food desert Census tract or within a mile of one, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"The remaining partners have more time to finish and we'll keep tabs on how they're doing as they work to complete," said Partnership spokeswoman Elly Spinweber in an email.

A look at the companies that made pledges, and where they stand, according to the partnership's most recent progress report:

  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc.: Pledged to build or renovate up to 300 stores. Built or renovated 392 stores, with the majority new stores.
  • Brown's Super Stores Inc., which operates some ShopRite supermarkets: Promised to build one new store and expand another. Expanded one ShopRite in the Philadelphia area in 2011 and opened another in 2013.
  • SuperValu Inc.: Promised to open 250 supermarkets. Company officials reported they only had opened 104 stores. A SuperValu spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
  • Walgreen Co.: Promised to start selling more fruits and vegetables in 1,000 to 2,000 Walgreens stores. The drugstore chain had only done so in 160 stores as of this year. Spokesman Jim Graham said the company is committed to expanding healthy food options and started selling frozen vegetables this year at most of its stores.
  • The Fresh Grocer: Promised to open five stores. Reported opening one. Spokeswoman Santina Stankevich said changes in the company's corporate structure altered the timeline for opening new stores in food deserts.
  • Calhoun Foods: Family-owned Alabama chain promised 10 stores. Did not report any progress to the Partnership campaign this year, and is considered to have dropped out. Company officials did not return emails or phone calls from the AP.