Last year, the City of Madison launched its Healthy Retail Access Program (HRAP) under the guidance of the Food Policy Council. The program is designed to provide funding to provide retail improvements that increase access to healthy retail in underserved Madison communities.
Funding targets geographic areas that are indicated as those with high distance to nearby grocery retail, higher rates of poverty, constructed or natural barriers that inhibit easy travel to food sources, and low rates of vehicle ownership. The City’s Food Access Improvement Map indicates Willy North is located in an area of focus for the City to improve access to healthy food (see the map at s.coop/madisonfoodaccessimprovementmap).
After submitting an application to the City and discussing funding possibilities with members of the Food Policy Council, we are pleased to announce that they have approved $68,330 in public funds to support Willy North over the next three years (this is about 2% of the total budget to open the store). Thanks to the matching funds of the many Owners who have agreed to purchase Bonds to fund Willy North, in-kind FoodShare education services from Second Harvest, and demonstrated in-kind support from the Northside Planning Council, grant monies will support salad bar and bulk aisle equipment, purchasing extra carts to support neighbors who wish to borrow a cart to transport groceries to the bus stop or to nearby residences, our first three years as a certified Women, Infants and Children (WIC) vendor, and our first year expanding the use of our 10% off Access Discount Program for more Owners who may indicate low income at Willy North.
Salad Bar and Bulk Aisle: Tailored to Buy Only What You Want, and What You Can Afford
Given that our goal is to get Willy North open for grocery service on the northside as quickly as possible, our original plans included limited prepared foods and bulk aisle offerings, as these were areas in the former retail footprint that were not more developed, and would require extra time to remodel and install. As we began to learn more from our Owners and residents on the northside, we learned that these two offerings were important to you and that we needed to revise our plans so that Willy North would provide the kinds of healthy foods you and your neighbors would like to buy.
The salad bar and the bulk aisle are both self-service. That means you decide what you need and you decide how much to buy. The salad bar provides fresh produce, proteins, condiments, and deli selections. It is a great way to get a healthy, quick, on-the-go meal, and reduce food waste by purchasing only the amounts you or your family would like to eat. You may purchase salad bar offerings and enjoy them right away in our commons, or take them to-go—it’s up to you.
Our bulk aisle features dry goods: beans, grains, pasta, rice, nuts, flour, seeds, pre-prepared dry mixes such as soups, and some liquids: oils and syrups. We also have a fresh peanut butter and almond butter grinder for you to use. The bulk aisle allows us to purchase pantry items at a large quantity and then pass the savings for purchasing at-volume to our customers who can then buy whatever amount makes the most sense based on need, budget, and storage space at home or on the go. We have always considered it one of the best values at our stores, and bulk aisles have traditionally been seen as the way that grocery cooperatives make natural and organic foods the most affordable.
All of our salad bar and bulk aisle offerings are sold by the pound. We provide containers, and you can purchase as much as you need or as much as you want to eat. At the checkout, we make sure you are only charged for the weight of the food, and not for the container. Many items in the bulk aisle are also eligible for
FoodShare (QUEST) purchase.
Offering a bulk aisle and salad bar at Willy North will increase healthy food access on the northside, because we are not only giving you flexibility to spend whatever your budget allows, but we are also maximizing the ability for you to use all of what you buy, which is a strong consideration for those who may be shopping on a budget. HRAP funds will make it easier for us to provide these services for you.
Grocery Carts: Ask If You Would Like to Borrow One at Willy North
Throughout our conversations with all the people we have been meeting on the northside, we’ve learned that customers in the area may wish to use grocery carts to transport their groceries to the bus or to their homes. It’s rare that a grocer would allow customers to take carts home, as retailers typically only supply as many carts as they would need to support shoppers while shopping. At Willy North, we would like to try something different. We would likefor our shoppers to feel comfortable asking to borrow a cart if you really need one. Getting your groceries home safely is important, and we want to make sure that no matter how you are getting to the store, you can get what you need, and make your shopping trip a convenient one. Thanks to the City HRAP grant, we will be able to provide 20 extra carts at North, and so if you need to take a cart home, please ask! We would be happy to help you.
The concept for allowing customers to borrow grocery carts is a work in progress. We are currently in discussions with some neighborhood housing facilities and the Northside Planning Council regarding providing cart corrals at those residencies, to make it even easier to get groceries home. We will let you know how this project continues to develop.
Willy North WIC Update
The City HRAP grant will also help support our participation in the State WIC program as an authorized vendor. WIC is an important feature for the Willy North location as the previous grocer was the #8 mid-sized grocery servicing WIC participants countywide, and #4 in the City of Madison. If we are approved by the State to become a WIC Vendor, we will be the only grocery cooperative in Wisconsin currently enrolled. We are excited to work with the State and to receive City support for figuring out how the WIC program and its participants can be serviced by a local and cooperative model of business.
In July, we submitted a price survey to the WIC specialists at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS), which includes a list of sample common WIC-approved products and our anticipated purchase price for those items. WDHS reviews our pricing on samples of approved cereals, block cheese, milk, eggs, beans and peas, juice, peanut butter, whole-grain foods, infant cereal, and infant fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, we have also submitted our WIC application, which asks for basic store information: location, hours, how many cash registers, points of contact, ownership, officers of the company, store manager, FoodShare authorization status, whether the space is leased or owned, our seller’s permit, what information technology is available to support WIC, banking information, annual sales data, and legal data. After WDHS reviews and approves both the price survey and the application, which can take up to six weeks, we will then be able to move forward with getting the WDHS administered training we need to provide WIC services at Willy North. We hope to begin offering this program as soon as possible (at the beginning of, or following, our planned August 15th opening).
WIC authorization is renewed every three years. In order to be an authorized WIC vendor, we are required to carry very specific products. Successful implementation of the program means that shoppers will be interested in purchasing those products, and we will not take losses on product we are required to carry sitting on the shelves. The amount that we will be reimbursed for WIC products is determined by WDHS, which caps the reimbursement rates. Since the reimbursement rates are confidential, we will be learning through trial and error whether or not we are being reimbursed the full amount that shoppers spend using WIC as a tender-type. The City’s HRAP grant will ensure that as we learn the pricing system for WIC, we will have some support in case of financial burden.
Access Discount Program: A New Store Leads To More Users
The Access Discount Program is available to all Owners who can demonstrate low income through one of a variety of ways, such as participation in or receiving FoodShare (QUEST), Medicaid (BadgerCare/Senior Care), WIC, Section 8 Housing Assistance (HUD), the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, FairShare CSA Coalition Partner Shares, or proof gross annual income is at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. Owners participating in the program receive a 10% discount on purchases every day and the ability to pay off their Owner equity over a longer period of time ($4 per year for Individual Owner, $7 per year for Household Owners).
The Access Discount Program is paid for through our annual operating budget and with a new store, it is hard to know exactly how many new people will qualify for and participate in or utilize the program. We have budgeted conservatively for the number of new Owners we expect with the opening of Willy North, and budgeted to increase what is spent on the Access Discount by a third. Of course, that is all based on speculative research, and reality may tell a different story. So, to offset the possibility that more people take advantage of the Access Discount than we might expect, the City HRAP grant will reimburse us for 50% of our budgeted/anticipated increase in Year One. This will help ensure that while we are increasing healthy food access in the community and providing a service for those who could use an extra helping hand, we can do so safely without jeopardizing the finances of the cooperative.
Second Harvest Expands FoodShare Education to Willy North
Second Harvest serves as our partner in providing FoodShare education and promoting the Access Discount Program at our stores. As part of receiving the WIC portion of the HRAP grant, Second Harvest Foodbank has agreed to a partial in-kind match of City funds for providing FoodShare education and training to customers and Willy North staff, to conduct FoodShare outreach and application assistance onsite at Willy North or at the Lakeview Library next door (Second Harvest already does this at Willy East and Willy West), to promote our Access Discount Program at their sites and outreach events throughout Dane County, and to refer FoodShare applicants to the Access Discount Program when applicable. We look forward to expanding our partnership with Second Harvest to reduce food insecurity and hunger in our community.
Thank You Food Policy Council, Owners, and Public Citizens
According to the City website, the Food Policy Council is a “public body that develops and recommends policies to the Mayor and Common Council to support our food system, and endorses efforts to do the same at the national level.” There are 23 committee members, including representatives from the Madison Metropolitan School District, Dane County Food Council, producers, advocates, and elected officials. Their main mission is to support the development of a food system that includes “equitable access to healthy, culturally appropriate food, nutrition education, and economic opportunity.” Your Co-op has been working with the Food Policy Council to support Allied Community Cooperative’s (ACC) healthy corner store project (ACC received $300,000 through the HRAP), to expand the Mad City Double Dollars Program from local farmers’ markets to the off season at the Co-op this fall (which will provide the Co-op $45,000 to support increased access to healthy produce for FoodShare participants through the winter season), to create a shuttle service on the north side for those who rely on alternative transportation to get groceries (Northside Planning Council received $6050 to start the program through the HRAP), and now the City has joined all of you to support opening Willy North in a part of the community that needs greater healthy retail access. The Council also has focus areas in community gardening, edible landscapes, food waste reduction, pollinator protection, the public market district and they administer the City SEED Grants that encourage “community groups, projects, and other proposals devoted to making food more accessible.”
We are so excited to be an integral partner with the City to expand food access in the area, and this partnership is made possible thanks to your Ownership, which provides matching support for the endeavors we are embarking on with the City; support through nonprofit partners such as the Northside Planning Council and Second Harvest; and public support for City programming. Thank you for making the path to providing greater healthy food access a path that we navigate together.