Papi on Assignment :: Detroit FRESH Part 1

Dr. Kami Pothukuchi | Detroit FRESH

In the second in a series on the grocery game in Detroit. Bodega Chronicles talks with Dr. Kami Pothukuchi at Wayne State University about Detroit corner stores, her work with them, and some of the wacky things you encounter in the store environment.

Bodega Chronicles (BC): What is Detroit Fresh? How long has it been around? What are the goals and objectives?

Dr. Kami Pothukuchi (KP) : Detroit Fresh is the healthy corner store program that SEED Wayne offers. The idea for Detroit FRESH is to increase access to fruit and vegetables within neighborhoods so that people have the opportunity to eat healthy, especially in the form of snacks. Also, to be able to substitute dollars they spend on chips and candy right now onto apples and other fruits and vegetables. We don’t expect people to buy entire meals, but the idea is if they want to buy a tomato they have that option.

Right now we have 22 corner stores and we’re working with gas stations, Most are liquor stores owned by Chaldean-Americans. They range from about 300 square feet of selling area to about 6000 square feet. Some were already sourcing fruits and vegetables but they welcomed the support we were providing in terms of technical assistance, outreach to the neighborhood and the connections to the distributors. If they have a WIC contract and they don’t have F/Vs, we are especially interested in knowing why because by contract they must have at least two types of F/Vs. Our recruitment efforts are intense for those stores.

BC: Tell me about the recruitment process. It must have been tough to distinguish between stores. There are a lot of stores, especially on the Eastside that could use this program. So walk me through your process of how you got your store participants.

KP: We started with an initial geography that was a 1-mile radius around Capuchin Soup Kitchen, our partner. We want to visit the stores on a regular basis, so we want to go to a geography that makes sense. For the distribution it makes sense as well. We canvassed over 250 stores before we got the 22 stores. We stayed away from neighborhoods that were within a quarter mile of a larger grocery store because the point is to serve neighborhoods that have no options. So we have seven stores on the Westside and the rest are on the Eastside.












The last three or four weeks our students have been going door to door in those neighborhoods; we’ve identified four or five blocks around each store. Some blocks are easy to do because there’s nothing there; everything is burned down. Other blocks people are sitting; people actually sit on their stoops in Detroit engaging in conversation, so we’ve had some good experiences with that.

BC: What about community outreach? How are these communities engaging with the program and the stores?

KP: We target churches and institutions initially to let them know the stores are working with us and tell them about our program. The churches don’t want to publicize [liquor stores], but we’re essentially putting liquor store times, 10am to 2am [on display on our flyers], it was a little ridiculous. Now we’ve decided on a new strategy, we want to go into the neighborhoods where the stores are and rather than publicizing specific stores on the printed flyer, we say, “want more fruits and vegetables in the neighborhood, you can make it happen!” We’re encouraging [the community] to ask for fresh fruits and vegetables in their stores to make the owners more aware of the demand for the product.

BC: How difficult is it to source fruits and vegetables in stores with little experience and relatively small volume for that product?

KP: Typically a distributor has a $75 minimum and most stores cannot sustain that. If the store is in the service area of a mobile market, then we connect them. If a store can source produce on their own by stopping at a Costco we ask them to save their receipts so we know what they are ordering. We give them in-store marketing materials – flyers, posters that say: “we are a member of Detroit FRESH”. We don’t give every store a poster; they really have to meet our quality standards before they get the poster. So that’s our pinnacle.

BC: I wanted to ask about the technical assistance you guys give to the grocers? What types of TA is provided?

KP: Initially, especially if they’ve never carried fruits and vegetables, we tell them how much to order to make sure they don’t lose money. We tell them don’t expect to get rich out of this. Some [owners] ask us if we will reimburse them for their losses, we say no. That’s part of carrying products needed for community, but we’ll help you out. We provide pricing information. If a store sells an apple for 99 cents, we tell them don’t do that, try selling it for 2 for $1, if you can or $.67, $.69 or something like that. We’re trying to bring the “double up” program to select corner stores which is very very tricky because a very small percentage of food stamp dollars are actually used for fruits and vegetables. So right now, the concept is a matching program. Let’s say out of $100 is spent in a store with EBT, 50 cents is spent on fruits and vegetables, at what level do you match?

Check out Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Pothukuchi on Monday.  In the meantime, catch up on the Detroit series when BC visits with Dan Carmody, President of Eastern Market Corporation.