Discount Non-food Retail Chain Dollar General (ETR: 7DG) expands its offerings to help eliminate food deserts. About 100 miles north of Mississippi’s capital, Jackson, sits Itta Bena. Nestled in the Mississippi Delta and home to fewer than 2,000 residents, the rural community proudly boasts several small businesses and Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU). Itta Bena also has something in common with thousands of similar communities across the country: It is a food desert. According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2021, 53.6 million U.S. residents have limited access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats, which means they live more than one-half mile from a supermarket or large grocery store in urban areas, or more than 10 miles in rural areas. For Itta Bena residents seeking these foods, the only choice is to shop in neighboring communities. That is, until Dollar General invested in their community.
With approximately 75% of the U.S. population living within five miles of a Dollar General store, the company’s expansive real estate footprint uniquely positions Dollar General to help address food insecurity by offering affordable and convenient access to nutritious foods. Customers can find healthier options, including frozen and canned vegetables, canned fruits, grains, dairy products, lean proteins, and more, on the shelves and in the coolers of the retailer’s nearly 19,000 stores. To further provide customers with healthier options, Dollar General partnered with a registered dietician and nutritionist to develop its “Better For You” program, which includes at-shelf labels signifying healthier products. This partnership also helped launch the company’s Good & Smart™ line, which created tasty recipes for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts that are made entirely with products sourced from Dollar General stores.
“WE BELIEVE OUR CUSTOMERS, ESPECIALLY THOSE IN RURAL COMMUNITIES, SHOULD HAVE AFFORDABLE AND NEARBY ACCESS TO THE INGREDIENTS THEY NEED TO CREATE A NOURISHING MEAL FOR THEMSELVES AND FOR THEIR FAMILIES.” says Emily Taylor, Executive VP and CMO, DOLLAR GENERAL.
“We believe our customers, especially those in rural communities, should have affordable and nearby access to the ingredients they need to create a nourishing meal for themselves and for their families,” says Emily Taylor, Dollar General’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer. “We know offering healthier options is something they need and expect of us, and we’re proud to be able to bring that to life in many different ways.”
THE IMPACT OF PRODUCE IN ITTA BENA As a company constantly working to meet its customers’ needs, Dollar General began adding a curated produce assortment to traditional stores in 2017. Consumers requested healthier and affordable options, and in response, Dollar General’s produce set offers the top 20 items sold in grocery stores and represents approximately 80% of categories that grocers offer. Itta Bena’s Dollar General was among the first location to offer expanded produce options. Four years later, in 2021, Dollar General announced plans to expand its produce offerings and formally committed to provide fresh fruits and vegetables in more than 10,000 stores in the coming years, with a meaningful number of them located in USDA-defined food deserts. The retailer is currently on track to make that commitment a reality in 3,000 stores by the end of fiscal year 2022. In Itta Bena, store manager Carlos Smith sees the positive impact that fresh offerings provide the community. “Dollar General has been a huge benefit to the folks of Itta Bena. Previously, the city didn’t have anything that provided healthier options,” he says. “Residents would have to drive 25 or 30 minutes to go to a grocery store. But now, they have somewhere clean and comfortable to shop right in town.” After the positive response to the new produce offerings, in 2021, Dollar General invested in its Itta Bena location again by remodeling the store into its new Dollar General Market format, which added fresh meat options and an expanded produce section. For many of Smith’s customers, the Dollar General Market can be a lifeline. “One of my customers has diabetes, and after the remodel, she was so happy,” he says. “She told me, ‘Carlos, you don’t know how this has helped me. I really need these fruits and vegetables.’” MVSU president, Jerryl Briggs Sr., Ph.D., recalls a buzz of excitement when Dollar General first remodeled its Itta Bena location, which sits across the street from the university’s campus. Before the produce pilot in 2017, some students relied on weekly shuttles to a supermarket 10 miles away for access to fresh produce. Now, they can go to Dollar General Market at their own convenience to purchase healthier snacks and ingredients for meals. “Our dining hall hours don’t always align with students’ schedules,” says Briggs. “Being able to run across the street to Dollar General and access a wide range of options, according to their own timelines, has helped students immensely.”
The store’s fresh produce also supports MVSU’s goal of promoting healthy eating, which includes university-led programs centered on nutrition to help students better understand that what they eat matters. “A healthy body leads to a healthy mind,” Briggs says. “Healthy eating plays a big role in sustaining our lives, and that is the message we try to convey at the university. Having a Dollar General so close to campus has really helped us further the work we’re doing here, and as a community, we’re grateful to have them.” As Dollar General continues to expand fresh produce access through new store openings and remodeling projects across the country, other communities, like Itta Bena, are experiencing similar benefits of more convenient and affordable access to healthier foods. “Our customers are responding very well to the availability and accessibility of the fresh fruits and vegetables that we’re able to provide in these stores,” Taylor says. “We’re excited to continue to expand and bring these benefits into more communities and to more customers.”