Pamela RiemenschneiderThe Double Up Food Bucks program is available at farmers markets across Michigan, and trialed at a few independent stores last year. A SpartanNash pilot this year hopes to solve some point-of-purchase programs to move the program to a larger scale. DETROIT — Smiles. That's what I see when I talk to people about Double Up Food Bucks.
From the grower at the historic Eastern Market packing up bags of local strawberries, to the shopper with the fruits and vegetables he purchased using his Double Up tokens, to the single-store operator who is joining as part of a SpartanNash pilot this year, everyone is optimistic about the opportunities presented by the program, which matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program purchases at participating sites with funds to purchase Michigan-grown produce.
Double Up Food Bucks celebrates its fifth anniversary this year by expanding its work in grocery — an area that will help it achieve a broader reach beyond farmers markets and food stands. The program started out privately funded, but now there are new opportunities through the 2014 Farm Bill’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives grant program to expand with federal funding.
“Retail was always part of the plan,” says Rachel Bair, Double Up Food Bucks program director. “The original grant proposals started in the farmers market, which was a great place to start, and then moved into retail.”
While the process is relatively simple at the farmers market, there are significant challenges in a retail environment.
“The main challenge, and it is a very real challenge,” Bair says, “is to figure out how to deliver the incentive in a way that is secure and can handle the volume.”
Farmers markets, she says, use a token system where a customer swipes their EBT card to get tokens that are matched with Double Up Food Bucks tokens for purchasing Michigan-grown produce. Vendors at the farmers market turn in their tokens for reimbursement at a central location.
“It’s really simple and works in all different sizes and types of markets, but that does not work in a grocery setting,” Bair says.
Last year, the program piloted in three Detroit-area independent grocers using gift cards for produce purchases. That program worked, Bair says, but would not be feasible at a larger scale.
“We’ve tried a few different avenues and are limited by the off-the-shelf point-of-sale systems that independent stores use,” she says. “When everything is well-labeled and well-marked in the produce department, it’s possible for the cashier to identify produce, but it’s ultimately up to the cashier to police the system. It works best when a store carries only Michigan-grown items in certain categories.”