National supermarket chain Safeway has announced several initiatives aimed at addressing food insecurity. Launching this month, Safeway is now accepting food stamp dollars for online purchases for home delivery or pickup. This new online purchasing program will allow participating shoppers to manage their benefits in real-time via Safeway’s e-commerce platform. This announcement builds upon Safeway’s participation in two other initiatives, based in Washington State, aimed at fighting food insecurity and increasing access to healthy food.
Food insecurity rates have increased dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic. Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, saw a 50 percent increase in charitable food assistance, with approximately 1 in every 5 adults reporting that they sought food assistance as a result of the pandemic’s economic consequences. According to USDA data, more than 40 million Americans are now enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
As of January 2022, Safeway stores will now accept SNAP payments online. Safeway’s move follows months of coordination with USDA. In March 2021, the USDA announced that increasing access to online grocery purchasing was a priority area for improving SNAP and “ensuring that all struggling families can get the nutritious food they need.”
Safeway’s program enables SNAP participants to purchase groceries for pickup or home delivery. Safeway representative Sara Osborne explained that the move to open online purchasing for SNAP participants allows shoppers to compare prices and monitor balances in real-time. “SNAP recipients can now order online at Safeway, keep track of their benefits, and know where their SNAP dollars are being spent.” Osborne highlighted the program’s home delivery option, as “many people experiencing food insecurity also have transportation issues, so home delivery for SNAP recipients can be a necessary option for families.” She continued, “the more accessible that we make this delivery, the more hopeful we are that this program improves food accessibility for everyone, including those with transportation challenges and those residing in food deserts.”
In addition to rolling out the national SNAP online purchasing program, Safeway is participating in two programs targeting food insecurity in Washington State: a Produce Match and a Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program.
Safeway is working with the Washington Department of Health (WDOH) to encourage produce consumption via a SNAP Produce Match. In this program, shoppers purchasing at least $10 of produce using SNAP dollars receive a $5 voucher for additional produce. According to a WDOH report, approximately 75,000 SNAP participants have already received Produce Match dollars. That same WDOH report concluded “for every $1.00 spent on incentives in grocery stores” like the Produce Match program “$2.70 is contributed to Washington’s economy.” WDOH also found that Produce Match customers spent 15 percent more on fruits and vegetables in the first year of the program and continues to show improvements in produce consumption year-on-year. The Produce Match program is currently offered at 170 Safeway stores statewide in Washington. Safeway’s Osborne noted that the program is one of the largest produce incentive programs in the country and “provides SNAP shoppers with more buying power for healthy foods, which will contribute to improving long-term health outcomes.” When Safeway launched its SNAP online purchasing program, it also included the Produce Match program, making it the first national chain retailer to offer an online produce incentive. The company is also currently investing to double the match, so SNAP shoppers will receive a $10 coupon for free produce, redeemable online or in stores.
Safeway is also collaborating with WDOH on its Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program. Working with WDOH, Safeway is a participating retailer in the state’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program. The program’s partner health care and public health organizations offer their patients fruit and vegetable vouchers that can be used at participating retail locations. Patients who are food insecure and have, or are at risk of developing, a chronic health condition are eligible to receive the vouchers. According to WDOH, Washington residents redeemed more than $1 million in these fruit and vegetable vouchers between 2016 and 2020. Safeway’s Osborne highlighted the connections between food security and health. “Patients who receive these vouchers are generally very food insecure, and these low levels of food security can have a direct correlation on chronic illness and poor health outcomes.”
With the launch of Safeway’s SNAP online purchasing program nationwide, SNAP households have more options to track and spend their SNAP dollars. Programs like Produce Match and Fruit and Vegetable Prescriptions make healthy food more affordable for food insecure households. These programs, being piloted statewide in Washington, offer considerable insight for other jurisdictions as they consider how to encourage produce consumption and addressing food insecurity.