San Francisco is hoping to take an educational approach to eliminating food deserts like the one in the Tenderloin, where there are 73 corner stores selling alcohol, tobacco, and processed and high-sugar foods.
Instead of bans or penalties, The City plans to launch a new program called Healthy Food Retailer Incentives that would provide corner store owners with resources to create a more nutritious food stock.
That could increase profits, said one consultant who would be working with owners on makeovers such as redesigning the small stores to create more product space.
"Where cigarettes will only give 11 percent profit to these stores and alcohol is maybe 25 percent, the natural foods and produce can be anywhere from 30 to 40 percent," said Larry Brucia, president and owner of Sutti Associates, a consultant firm based in Burlingame.
Legislation introduced by Supervisor Eric Mar requires the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to begin operating the program by 2014. It would provide resources and technical assistance to corner stores to help them become retailers of healthy food.
Jorge Rivas, a staff member with the office, said $60,000 has been budgeted for the program.
To participate, retailers must agree to devote at least 35 percent of their selling area to fresh produce, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products, and no more than 20 percent of the selling area to tobacco and alcohol. It also requires regular reporting on progress and results.
The effort has strong backing from young community advocates in both the Bayview and Tenderloin neighborhoods.
Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes the Tenderloin, praised the legislation.
"For many years we have struggled as a neighborhood to attract a full-service grocery to the Tenderloin," she said.
The program, Kim said, is "about transformation, both physical transformation and also behavioral and health transformation, in a neighborhood that has a lower life expectancy than others."
The program is based on similar efforts in other areas, such as Philadelphia and Brooklyn in New York City. The nonprofit Food Trust, which developed the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Network, reported that it received commitments to offer healthier food options from 630 of the 1,500 eligible corner stores within the first six months of the program launch in April 2010. Within two years, the participating corner stores added 18,000 new healthy foods such as fruit, low-fat dairy and whole-grain products.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the legislation today.