The Food Bucks incentive program makes fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for shoppers who use SNAP benefits (food stamps). Since 2015, when Food Bucks launched in Pittsburgh, over $50,000 worth of Food Bucks have been redeemed at area farmers markets, supermarkets and corner stores. In addition to making fresh produce more accessible and affordable to shoppers with lower incomes, the Food Bucks program puts more money into the pockets of local farmers and local food businesses. In partnership Just Harvest and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, we’re adding more redemption sites every year, and in 2018 will see the program continue to grow.
Food Bucks work like this: For every $5 a shopper spends using their SNAP benefits at a farmers market, they receive an additional $2 Food Buck coupon to use on fresh produce. This represents a 40% increase in buying power. In supermarkets, it works the same, with the caveat that shoppers must spend $5 on fresh produce to earn a $2 Food Buck. At corner stores, shoppers earn a $1 Food Buck for every $2 of SNAP they spend, in recognition that purchases are often smaller at corner stores. Food Bucks works differently in different retail settings to accommodate the needs of both shoppers and retailers.
Currently, Food Bucks are only cross-redeemable at farmers markets. This means that a shopper can earn Food Bucks at any farmers market and redeem them at any other farmers market. This is not the case with our corner stores or supermarkets. In those settings, a shopper can only redeem Food Bucks at the location where they were earned. As Food Bucks become available at more sites, we’re seeing shoppers wanting to use their Food Bucks between locations. For example, shoppers want to be able to earn Food Bucks when they shop at the farmers market, and spend them at the supermarket, or vice versa. But, that’s currently not possible. The Food Trust seeks to integrate all of our regional Food Bucks programming, using technology to create one streamlined Food Bucks program that better serves shoppers, reduces the burden on small retailers, saves money currently being spent on printing and data entry, and, perhaps most importantly, increases the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables among users. This could take the form of an app, or like a Connect Card or gift card, or like something new. We'll use the UpPrize funding to determine the best model, engaging all relevant stakeholders: SNAP recipients, fresh food retailers, and the tech community.
If we can figure out how to do this, there’s a ready market waiting. Beyond our work in Pennsylvania, there are many other organizations working on SNAP incentive programs nationwide that are facing the same challenges we are.
People who use SNAP benefits (food stamps) and retailers (farmers markets, corner stores, supermarkets, etc.) that sell fresh produce.