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Discounted Delivery Programs Expand Access in Food Deserts

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A growing array of free and discounted grocery delivery programs for low-income consumers are seeking to make an impact on reducing hunger.

A study published by No Kid Hungry, the University of Kentucky, and Instacart found that online grocery shopping offers significant advantages for low-income families, including participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. These families were able to extend their food budgets, save time, and reduce stress, the study found, and they also purchased more fruits and vegetables than in-store shoppers.

Instacart offers a 50 percent discount on an Instacart+ membership for SNAP participants who have used an electronic benefits transfer SNAP card to buy groceries on Instacart from participating retailers. The Instacart+ service provides free delivery and pickup on orders over $35, plus 5 percent credit back on eligible pickup orders and reduced service fees on all orders. In addition, all new Instacart customers get free delivery on their first three orders.

Earlier this year Instacart said it had expanded its same-day delivery service for SNAP participants with several retailers, so that it now reaches 96 percent of households that are enrolled in SNAP and 93 percent of households located in food deserts.

The USDA estimates that about 17.1 million people in the U.S. live in food deserts, where the nearest supermarket is a mile or more away in urban areas and 20 miles or more away in rural areas.

Among the benefits of offering delivery to these consumers are the reduced stigma of using SNAP benefits in stores, and the tendency to buy healthier foods and shop more efficiently, the No Kid Hungry report found. 

The report, which surveyed adults and families with children in North Carolina, Maryland and New York, found that families using SNAP benefits to shop online spent $5.24 more per week on average on fruits and vegetables, compared with in-store shoppers, without increasing their grocery bill. 

In addition, participants who received tailored assistance, such as shopping tips, meal-planning suggestions, social support, and incentives to defray fees, spent an average of $6.84 more on fruits and vegetables, also without increasing their total grocery spending. One research participant in the study from North Carolina said that shopping online helped prevent overspending on unneeded items.

“I’m able to open up my refrigerator, see what I need, see what I don’t need,” the participant said. “It encourages me more to meal plan. And actually, it ends up being a quicker process and a cheaper process.”

“Access to online grocery shopping can yield real benefits that support the well-being of low-income and SNAP families,” the No Kid Hungry report found. “SNAP households say online grocery shopping offers greater convenience, less stress, time savings, and the ability to try new items.”

Online retailer Thrive Market, which recently began offering free membership to SNAP participants, said it expects that offering free grocery delivery to underserved communities would help alleviate food deserts.

Although Thrive Market acknowledged that some underserved areas lack internet access, nearly 85 percent of people who live at or below the poverty line can get online and order grocery delivery, the company said.

Thrive Market is promoting the availability of the program to non-members through its nonprofit and antihunger group partners, such as FoodCycle LA, Baby2Baby, and others, in addition to leveraging its social media and influencer partners. Thrive also has been marketing the availability of the program to both members and non-members via its homepage, its member landing page, on social media, in its blog, and in email communications, in addition to a SNAP EBT announcement via text on launch day last month.

The company said that Thrive Market offers more than 4,000 SNAP-eligible products on its site, many of which are specialty brands.

In yet another initiative seeking to reach low-income consumers with grocery delivery, Kroger last year launched a pilot program in partnership with the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness and the Human Foundation to provide free grocery delivery to families in the city’s Healthy Start program. That program is aimed at reducing infant mortality rates in several areas of Jefferson County, Kentucky.

The pilot, which accepts SNAP benefits, will be funded by a $144,500 grant from Humana. Kroger will provide the delivery service.

“At Kroger, we’re all-in on eliminating hunger in the areas we serve through our Zero Hunger/Zero Waste Initiative,” Jake Cannon, Kroger’s Louisville Division president, said in a statement on “We’re proud of our ability to reach past a storefront with Kroger Delivery and serve fresh groceries right to the front door of those who need access most.”

The pilot, which kicked off in January, is scheduled to last for one year, after which it will be evaluated, according to reports.