By Senior Policy Associate Karen Gardner and Deputy Director Sara John, PhD
Dollar stores are the fastest-growing food retailer in the United States. With more than 35,000 dollar stores nationwide, these retailers have an opportunity to improve community nutrition and food access for millions of Americans. Here's what our survey of WIC participants and dollar store shoppers reveals about retailers like Dollar General.
Dollar stores and community health
Dollar stores are the fastest-growing food retailer in the United States both by number of stores and consumer spending. There are more than 35,000 dollar stores nationwide, and Dollar General owns more than half of them.
Dollar stores are especially concentrated in Black and Latine communities and communities with limited financial resources. Dollar stores may be serving as important food access points; however, dollar stores stock fewer healthy food options compared to grocery stores and supermarkets. How do communities feel about the food shopping at dollar stores and the impact on their communities’ health?
CSPI’s dollar store survey
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sought to answer this question by conducting a national survey that asked 750 dollar store shoppers with limited resources how they use and feel about dollar stores.
We found that:
- Community members had overall positive perceptions of dollar stores.
- Convenience, affordability, and selection of specialty items motivated shopping at dollar stores.
- Low-quality products, product availability, store appearance, and inadequate staffing deterred shopping at dollar stores.
- Dollar store food shopping was secondary to big box stores and supermarkets but played a larger role for shoppers utilizing SNAP.
- Community members strongly supported increasing healthy food and beverage options at dollar stores.
This last point we heard loud and clear: 81 percent of respondents believe dollar stores should stock more healthy options; 65 percent believe dollar stores have a responsibility to improve the health of their communities; 74 percent of respondents believe dollar stores should do more to market and identify healthy options.
Most dollar store shoppers reported that they would buy healthy pantry staples, fruits and vegetables in all forms, whole grains, and healthy snacks if stocked at their local dollar store.
Improving access to healthy food
Dollar General owns over 18,000 dollar stores across the country, but only 16 percent of Dollar General locations sell fresh fruit or vegetables. Our study found that dollar store customers across the country want dollar stores to make healthy food more available, affordable, and accessible. Therefore, CSPI is urging Dollar General to serve families better across the country. Specifically, we are calling on Dollar General to expand the number of stores that are authorized to accept Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
WIC is a federal program that improves access to nutritious foods for the six million women, infants, and children with lower incomes who participate in the program. WIC shoppers can use their benefits to purchase healthy foods at food retailers (such as grocery stores) that are WIC authorized. But only half of WIC-eligible families participate in the program, in part due to barriers to program access.
To become WIC authorized, Dollar General stores would be required to stock a range of healthy products, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, eggs, baby food, and formula. This would benefit families participating in WIC, especially those who might not have an authorized retailer in their community. It would also mean more nutritious food options for all customers who shop at a WIC-authorized dollar store.
How you can help
It’s time for Dollar General to support families in this country and offer more healthy foods in their stores. Tell Dollar General: We all deserve healthy and affordable food, especially children and parents in need.