Changes In Healthier Food Options In
Original Publication Information:
IAHPERD Journal Spring, 2011
Convenience stores have never been considered the bastions of healthy food options. However, they respond very quickly to shifting demographics and the wants of the people who frequent the stores. The food industry works on very small margins, therefore, they must be very nimble in order to remain profitable. According to Gervase R. Bushe Ph.D., of Simon Fraser University,” Increased competition, and the rising cost of goods sold, labor, benefits, and upward spiraling credit- card fees are already squeezing net profits to below two percent for most (convenience) stores.” (1) This results in stores only carrying items that the public is willing to buy. The monitoring of food options in convenience stores can be viewed as a barometer for shifting food preferences in a local region.
The purpose of the current study was to investigate changes in healthy food options as measured by the Nutrition Environment Measures Survey (NEMS) Convenience Store Assessment Tool. This proven set of tools is used to evaluate how a community influences personal nutrition behaviors. (2)
Under the direction of the Jefferson County Wellness Coalition data was collected in June, 2010 on all nine convenience stores in Jefferson County. Two stores were in rural Jefferson County and the remaining seven stores were found in Fairfield, the principal population center of Jefferson County. In June 2011 eight convenience stores had data collected on them. One of the convenience stores from the previous year was not in operation due to the rebuilding of the store. Data for that store was not included in the analysis. A trained evaluator visited all stores and collected data on the following food items:
Table 1. NEMS Food Items Milk Fruit Vegetables Frozen Dinners Baked Goods Ground Beef Hot Dogs Bread Beverages Baked Chips Cereal
Each food item is awarded or taken away NEMS points depending on availability, price and quality. For example, if fresh fruit is an item the store carries it is awarded points but if the fruit is of poor quality some of the awarded points will be lost.
Chart 1 shows the average NEMS scores for all 8 convenience stores in Jefferson County in 2010 and 2011. The difference of 4.38 between years is statistically significant.
Chart 2 shows the change in the NEMS total score for each store in Jefferson County. All stores except one had increases in total scores.
Chart 3 shows the percent increase in the NEMS total score for each store in Jefferson County. All stores except one had a 50% increase or greater between 2010 and 2011. The average percent increase in total score from 2010 to 2011 was 63%.
Chart 4 shows that chain convenience stores compared to non-chain stores had a greater percent increase (96% vs. 41%) in the NEMS scores. Because of the small number of stores in the sample this difference is not statistically significant. However, this does not mean that the difference is insignificant. Convenience chain stores more than doubled their NEMS total scores indicating a greater selection of healthier food options.
While it is very difficult to ascertain motivations of the buying public, the presence of greater choice for healthy options in Jefferson County has been recognized by this research, as indicated by Chart 1, 2 and 3. Jefferson County has had a three year concentrated focus on changing the health and behaviors of its residents. (3) Changes in other health behaviors have been documented by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation. In 2011 Jefferson County ranked 66 in Iowa, by 2011 it moved placement to number 42. (4)
Jefferson County has shown remarkable progress in offering healthier food options in convenience stores over a one-year period. However, they are only scoring 12.38 out of a possible 54 points on the NEMS scale. To score the full 54 points the convenience store would have to offer all food items included in the survey instrument. This selection of food items may not be appropriate for all stores. Although the NEMS scores for Jefferson County convenience stores is still relatively low as a county it is showing signs of moving in the right (healthier) direction.
(1) Bushe, Gervase R.. Can’t Get More than Two Percent Profit From Your Convenience Stores?: One Michigan Company Is Growing its Margins. Web. 28 June, 2011. http://www.bigrapidsgroup.com/images/Wescoarticle.pdf
(2) Glanz K, Sallis JF, Saelens BE, Frank LD. Nutrition Environment Measures Survey in Stores (NEMS-S). American Journal of Preventive Medicine Volume 32, Issue 4 , Pages 282-289, April 2007
(3) Let’sGoJeffCo; It’s Never Too Late To Feel Great. Web. 28 June, 2011. http://www.letsgojeffco.com/
(4) Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. County Health Rankings: Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health. Web. 28 June, 2011. http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/iowa