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  • March 19, 2019
  • Hopping, Beth
    • Affiliation: Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Nutrition
  • The prevalence of obesity and chronic disease remains high in the United States despite decades of public health research aiming to improve dietary quality. People of lower socioeconomic status (SES) and residents of rural areas are particularly at risk. The food environment is a key mediator of diet-related health disparities. There is evidence associating local food purchasing with healthier eating behaviors. However, little is known about whether lower-SES and rural consumers have positive associations with local food and would preferentially buy it in the grocery store context or whether local food purchases might ultimately increase diet quality and fruit and vegetable intake. The purpose of the present study was to (1) characterize perceptions of locally grown food and self-reported barriers and facilitators to purchasing it among frequent shoppers of three rural grocery stores; (2) design and implement multiple small-scale, store-based interventions aimed at increasing local food purchasing in grocery stores serving lower-income, rural consumers; and (3) measure the individual- and organizational-level effectiveness of local food purchasing intervention strategies. We partnered with three grocery stores located in rural, lower-SES communities in North Carolina. A formative, qualitative study was conducted through in-depth interviews with frequent shoppers (n=22) of the three stores, followed by the development and testing of two distinct local-food-based intervention strategies. In-store consumer intercept surveys (n=67), store observations (n=7), and post-intervention interviews with store managers (n=2) and participating farmers (n=2) provided insights into program implementation and maintenance. We found positive attitudes toward locally produced food among participants. Supporting local farmers and their community’s economy were primary motivators, though perceived price was cited as a common barrier. We developed two store-based interventions designed to increase local food purchasing informed by: (1) constructs that emerged from formative work (awareness of local food availability) and reported values around local food purchasing (reciprocity with farmers in the community), and (2) constructs from the behavioral (social proof) and marketing (cross-selling) bodies of literature. Intervention components included signs, recipe cards, stickers, and a consolidated local produce display. Interventions lasted for the duration of the local produce sourcing season (Store B = 8 wks; Store C = 6 wks). One of three participating stores (Store A) was ultimately unable to source local produce for the intervention phase of the study. Store B implemented intervention materials with high fidelity; Store C implemented the intervention with moderate and diminishing fidelity. Few shoppers reported noticing the intervention signage in either store, but 88% of respondents reported a preference for local foods, and 70% reported a desire to purchase local food on their next shopping trip. Prices for local and nonlocal produce items were kept equal, thus eliminating the most commonly cited perceived barrier to purchasing. Managers at both stores reported intending to continue sourcing local produce beyond the study period, despite the increased work required to do so. Findings from this study indicate that promotion of local food is acceptable to both participants and retailers in rural, lower-SES communities. However, further work is required to identify the effectiveness of different marketing approaches and the impact on quality of food purchasing.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Ammerman, Alice
  • Ariely, Dan
  • Dunning, Rebecca
  • Zhou, Haibo
  • De Marco, Molly
  • Bentley, Margaret
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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