Program offers healthy food options at Cambridge convenience stores

Originally published March 13, 2014 in the Cambridge Chronicle.

Cambridge resident Wayne Robinson eyes the Healthy Markets Program options at Newtowne Variety on Windsor Street, Thursday, March 6. The city selected two markets to launch the pilot program in December in an effort to make it easier for residents to eat healthy food. Photo by Erin Baldassari/Wicked Local Cambridge.

Cambridge resident Wayne Robinson eyes the Healthy Markets Program options at Newtowne Variety on Windsor Street, Thursday, March 6. The city selected two markets to launch the pilot program in December in an effort to make it easier for residents to eat healthy food. Photo by Erin Baldassari/Wicked Local Cambridge.

Eating healthy in Cambridge just got a little easier thanks to a pilot program aimed at encouraging convenience store owners to sell fresh produce and whole grains.

Launched in December, the Healthy Markets Program is part of a Massachusetts Public Health Department initiative that works to make healthy food options more accessible to residents. While Cambridge has a good amount of grocery stores, Josephine Wendel, a nutrition coordinator for the Cambridge Department of Public Health, said the program is about creating environments conducive to healthy choices.

“The city is trying to make it easier for people to have healthy foods,” Wendel said. “It’s not always possible for people to make it to their grocery store, so this makes it easier to shop locally.”

The program began with Newtowne Variety on Windsor Street and Pires Market on Cambridge Street and has since added the 7-Eleven on Prospect Street. Wendel said the markets were selected because they already offered a variety of produce options.

Newtowne Variety co-owner John Gauthier said they’ve always carried some fresh produce but began adding wheat pastas and low-fat cereals to the store’s arsenal of food options as part of the program. He’s already noticed an uptick in demand.

“Customers are picking up the produce more and more now,” Gauthier said.

In exchange for offering to supply the healthy food options, the city provides signage and baskets for the stores. Chris Basler at the Cambridge Economic Development Department said many communities around the country have taken similar approaches. The signage helps the stores market the healthy food options, Basler said.

“We’ve heard anecdotally that the corner stores only offer junk foods and don’t have healthy food options,” Basler said. “This program provides more in-store marketing of healthy products so that whenever a customer comes in they can identify the healthy food that’s available.”

Although the program hasn’t impacted his bottom line, Gauthier said the program might be changing the way people are allocating the money they do spend in his store.

“I think people are just spending differently,” Gauthier said. “Plus, there are plenty of people in the area who are healthy eaters and like to have the choice.”

For Newtowne Variety customer Lawrence Ruff, the program is a move in the right direction.

“The first thing you see is the fruits,” Ruff said. “For kids who come in and see that, they might think differently about buying candy.”

Wayne Robinson, a Cambridge resident and single father on a fixed income, said eating healthy doesn’t take a million dollars; sometimes it just takes a change in attitude.

“Sometimes people think that eating healthy means eating bland food with no flavor, but if they knew that’s not the case, they’d just want to eat it because it tastes good,” Robinson said. “People just need to know how to get that food.”

The pilot is funded by a federal Community Transformation Grant, and Wendel said they are actively trying to expand the program to other stores.

Newtowne Variety on Windsor Street was one of two stores to participate in the launch of Cambridge's Healthy Markets Program, which aims to make it easier for residents to select healtheir foods. Photo by Erin Baldassari/Wicked Local Cambridge.

Newtowne Variety on Windsor Street was one of two stores to participate in the launch of Cambridge’s Healthy Markets Program, which aims to make it easier for residents to select healtheir foods. Photo by Erin Baldassari/Wicked Local Cambridge.

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