published Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Grocery store deserts

by Emily Bregel
Audio clip

John Bilderback

The poorest residents of Chattanooga face the highest prices at their neighborhood food stores, according to an analysis of food prices and grocery store access in Chattanooga.

With few nearby grocery stores, residents of low-income neighborhoods such as East Chattanooga and Highland Park often have to do their food shopping at corner stores and convenience stores, where perishable items such as vegetables and meats are significantly more expensive, according to the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies report released today.

The situation amounts to a kind of "food tax" on the population least able to afford it and creates a barrier to accessing healthy, nutritious foods, the researchers say.

"The poor are paying more, whether it's in higher prices (at corner stores) or in the cost of transportation" to a supermarket, said David Eichenthal, president and CEO of the Ochs Center, which conducts policy research and data analysis.

PDF: Food Access and Price report


Number of grocery stores per 10,000 population (1.0 is the recommended level for adequate access):

* Bushtown/Highland Park (pop. 7,776): 0

* East Chattanooga (pop. 8,117): 0

* South Chattanooga (pop. 12,674): 0.79

* Downtown (pop. 6,960): 1.44

* East Ridge (pop. 20,640): 1.94

* Lookout Valley/Lookout Mountain (pop. 7,209): 4.16

* Hixson (pop. 12,329): 5.68

Source: "Food Access and Price," Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies report

Researchers at the Ochs Center came up with a sample grocery list that included milk, bread, meat and fruits and compared the prices at corner stores and supermarkets.

Across all neighborhoods, fresh fruits and vegetables on average cost 41 percent more in corner stores than grocery stores, and milk and cheese were 29 percent higher, the researchers found.

At the corner stores, the average total cost of all items on the grocery list was $34.12, compared to $23.91 if the items were purchased at a grocery store.

"That's a $10 difference for the people who are making $12,000 a year," said John Bilderback, program manager for Step One, the anti-obesity program of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

In East Chattanooga, where there are no grocery stores, just 6 percent of residents live within a mile of a grocery, compared to 55 percent in Hixson, where there are seven grocery stores, he said.

The price differences are no surprise to East Chattanooga community advocate and resident Mildred Moreland.

"It was just good to see it in numbers," said Mrs. Moreland, who is chairwoman of the health committee of the East Side Task Force. She's lived in East Chattanooga for 40 years and has seen the neighborhood decline, she said.

"We had several large grocery stores that have moved out of the area. It's just been a change over a period of years," she said.

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Researchers say today's report and an earlier study by the Ochs Center describe a very real access issue for some populations in Chattanooga. The report also presents potential solutions.

An August study by the Ochs Center showed that, in the five areas of Chattanooga with the highest food stamp enrollment, almost 90 percent of the stores that accepted food stamps are gas stations and convenience stores.

But most participants in the program were making the effort to get to a grocery store miles away to redeem their food stamps at a supermarket, said Lori Quillen, policy analyst at the Ochs Center and author of both studies.

The results show there is demand for a grocery store in poor neighborhoods, which could be used to induce a store to locate there, she said.

Massive investments in the Southside area show that community revitalization efforts can pave the way for new services, such as a market, coming to the city of Chattanooga, said local developer Gavin Thomas.

Mr. Thomas and fellow Southside resident Eric Cummings plan to open a full-service grocery store on the corner of Main and Long streets by next fall. The locally owned and operated store, Enzo's Market, will serve a growing area that is basically a "grocery desert," Mr. Thomas said.

"We're completely underserved. Most of the new grocery stores that have been built are out on the edge of our urban area," he said.

Mrs. Moreland agreed that improvements in areas such as crime rates in East Chattanooga would probably have to come before a grocery store would open there.

"We're trying as much as we can to revitalize the area and to bring back single-family homes and make the community an area where people would want to live in again," she said.

In other cities, grants or public funding help corner stores acquire larger refrigerator spaces so they can stock a larger supply of perishable foods and perhaps then offer lower prices, Mr. Bilderback said.

Convenience stores must price perishable items such as meats a bit higher than grocery stores since the smaller shops carry fewer of those staple items, said Vijay Chaudhari, who owns nine Kanku's convenience stores in Chattanooga.

Grocery stores can buy products such as vegetables and meats in bulk since that's where most customers go to buy those items, he said.

"We don't sell that much meat. We're more like the candies, gum, Coke," he said.

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
fftspam said...

There is not a better feeling I have in my heart than watching the woman in front of me at the Rossville Blvd Mapco using her EBT card to buy 2 2liter bottles of Mtn Dew and a handful of Jerky Treats.

How about restricting the items that can be bought with an EBT card? or is the Mtn Dew and Beef Jerky lobby too strong?

Don't blame the store owners for this.. blame the people that buy the Beef Jerky and Mtn Dew and the EBT card that allows them to buy this crap.

TFP: Do a story on that.

December 23, 2009 at 2:05 a.m.
KWVeteran said...

"The results show there is demand for a grocery store in poor neighborhoods, which could be used to induce a store to locate there, she said." That statement is absolutely false. A two million dollar investment in a supermarket has to be recouped. The theft rate in the neighborhoods where the other markets closed was staggering. Operating a supermarket is a business venture and like any big business venture there has to be a return on the investment. This entire article smells of liberal feel good type hype that is so prevalent at Christmas each year.

December 23, 2009 at 8:43 a.m.
rolando said...

Hey, how about if Congress takes over the food distribution system? From the grower [farms, ranches, etc] right on up. Let the gov't control it all.

They have done such a bang-up job with GM, the banks, the housing industries, etc they should do a real FINE job on supermarkets.

Long lines, empty shelves, high prices...yeah, just the ticket. More government jobs...yeah.

December 23, 2009 at 9:44 a.m.
rolando said...

You are spot-on, KWVeteran. When it costs more to do business, it costs more at the check-out stand.

Then there is the risk of riots, burn-outs, broken windows and other fixtures, to say nothing of insurance costs.

The poor bring these troubles upon themselves and pumping money in there is not going to solve it.

December 23, 2009 at 9:46 a.m.
barry_s said...

...and merry christmas to you, conservative message board.

congratulations ms bregel and tfp for a story that is long overdue. access to nutrition (be it through proximity or price) is a huge problem in low-income neighborhoods. in east chatt, hot peanuts are still $.50, mtn dew $.99 and yet a banana can be as much as a buck. a loaf of bread $3.

As for the first commentor...what did you buy at Mapco? my guess is Mtn Dew and Jerky, as that is more than likely what one buys at a gas or poor.

December 23, 2009 at 10:34 a.m.
bell_fighter said...

Barry_s you hit the nail on the head!!You seem to have the first intelligent statement on here.

December 23, 2009 at 11:58 a.m.
signalmtnman said...

Riots? For real? There are many businesses already in these areas and I guess it's just a liberal media cover up because I haven't read about a single riot in years. What a bunch of foolish comments.

December 23, 2009 at 12:35 p.m.
DOCJGH said...

Anti-urban, anti-poor biases were brought out by this article in the comments of some of the readers. Instead of understanding what they read and hear, they blame the victim. This study reiterates the results of similar studies over the last 20-30 years that the poor pay more in absolute dollars and in lowered quality when it comes to the cost of food, produce and other more healthy foods. The comments also ignore the fact that inner city stores like Dollar General on Grove Street on the Westside of Chattanooga have some of the lowest shrinkage rates (theft) rates in the area and instead raise up some urban myths to justify both higher prices and the movement of major chains out of the inner city.

December 23, 2009 at 1 p.m.
Exusiai said...

barry, I think the first person's comment was ment to reflect that if you are on the EBT program, you should not be using those dollars on Beef Jerky and Mt Dew. It should be used to purchase Groceries like food for you and yoru family.

December 23, 2009 at 1:02 p.m.
bell_fighter said...

Exusiai,You can only purchase FOOD items with a EBT card.Their choice of "groceries"is their own business.Anyway,I have noticed the difference in the prices myself.

December 23, 2009 at 1:26 p.m.
Sailorman said...

Sure choice of "groceries" is theirs but don't whine about the poor kids being malnourished when their idiot parents are wasting the EBT funds on junk food at convenience store prices.

December 23, 2009 at 2:12 p.m.
Exusiai said...


I'm gonna have to agree with Sailorman here. You have people abusing the system, Selling their Food Stamps, using them on snacks and such as Above, and then complaining that they have children who can't get nourishing food.

Oh ye of double standards, may at this time of Yule they learn that if they squander thy gifts, that they shalt reap the benifits thereof.

December 23, 2009 at 2:36 p.m.
bell_fighter said...

Woop Dee!!Sailorman and Exusiai in case you didn't know people with children are not the only ones receiving EBT benefits..DUH!There are plenty of seniors receiving benefits also.Like I said it is these peoples choice to purchase whatever KIND of food they want like it or not!!

December 23, 2009 at 4:44 p.m.
rolando said...

Then they have no basis for griping about their choice of foods, bell-fighter.

So what food stores are left in the inner city -- other than convenience stores? [Serious question -- I drive very little in that direction.] Evidently the chain stores have all folded up or moved...too many convenience stores nearby selling the crap-food the poor prefer, maybe??

As to the possibility of riots, it wouldn't take many more guys police-shot 43 times on their front porch or 15 year olds shot in the back by cop or electrocuted by TASER, etc, etc, to start the fires burning. [That's what the inner-city folks claim.] No doubt those sitting in well-fed luxury in their backyard up on SignalHill, holding high-power binoculars, can see more of the inner city turmoil than those of us down here with our feet on the ground.

Oh yeah, my part of town -- far northern Hamilton County -- has lost three of its four food stores -- BiLo, FoodLion, and WinnDixie. All we have left is made-in-China-with-sewer-water pre-packaged food in a SuperWallyWorld. Convenience stores are doing nicely here, too...more opening, in fact. Jerky sells well, at 15-20 dollars a pound[!!] Now that's expensive.

December 23, 2009 at 7:51 p.m.
barry_s said...

it is the ACCESS to affordable groceries that is the issue...not what one purchases with their EMT card. The burden of assembling a home-cooked meal with ingredients purchased at a convenience store is an expensive and tricky is taking public trans or cab to a grocery store miles away, and toting multiple parcels back home. In East Chatanooga, those that have ample transportation, the quality of life is exponentially improved. for those who walk or ride the bus...well, i encourage any of you to take a trip down Dodson Ave next lunch break. feel free to stop in at SunnyTown on the corner of Crutchfield and Dodson and buy a nutritional lunch.

December 23, 2009 at 9:49 p.m.
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