Rollin' Grocer brings more than just hope to area food deserts.
Rollin' Grocer brings more than just hope to area food deserts.
(Image courtesy of Rollin' Grocer)
January 17 , 2017 by Frank Elder II NowThatsCookin.com
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - I was on Twitter the other day and noticed a tweet about the closing of two grocery stores in Kansas City, Missouri. Many people don't give the closing of a business a lot of thought unless it is maybe where they work or has been an area landmark, businesses come and go on a regular basis and we are so caught up in our daily lives these kinds of events tend to go unnoticed.
But what happens when the business that is closing is an integral part of a community, a place where residents go to get essential items for their daily lives? The impact is even greater, having ripple effects that at first may seem like just a drop in the bucket but when you zoom out to see the bigger picture that is when you see just how far that ripple goes. Let's say that this business is a grocery that provides for the community, what type of impact can that have on local residents and their families? This is where the term "Food Desert" comes into play.
What is a food desert you ask? In essence, it is a term that describes a geographical area where it is problematical to obtain nutritious food. Some factors can include the number of grocery stores and supermarkets, distance people have to travel to get their food, overall affordability of the food and availability of nutritious options from the locations that are accessible to the public. Food deserts are predominately found in low income and rural areas. The USDA has developed a map of many of these areas that they call their Food Access Research Atlas, which you can find here: https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/
Looking over the map really is quite shocking, at first glance while the map is zoomed out and only the "green" areas are selected you see a lot of them, which is good. When you select the other reporting options that show you areas of concern you will start seeing a lot more areas highlighted on the map. The really concerning part is when you start zooming in closely to various areas and cities, then you get a much better picture of how prevalent these food deserts actually are. I encourage everyone reading this article to take 20 minutes out of their life and check out your city on this map, you may be very surprised at what you find.
America is known as the "Land of Plenty" and the "Land of Opportunity". I have to ask myself when I see people from so many walks of life, varying ethnicities, families and children that go without good nutritious food, what has happened to those afore mentioned terms of endearment we use for our country? Many say that government must provide better solutions and I agree with that sentiment but only to a degree, it is up to each and every one of us to pay attention to problems and be proactive to find solutions. Another aspect that Americans are known for are their entrepreneurial spirit, this country is built from that spirit.
Enter a solution by the name of Rollin' Grocer. I had the distinct privilege recently to speak in depth to Natasha Ria El-Scari from Rollin' Grocer, when you go to their website you will find her "title" to be "Concious Community Connector". I can say firsthand that she is very enthusiastic about what they are doing and the positive impact they have had on their community. Jessica Royer is the founder and co-owner of Rollin' Grocer, a title the group asked her to wear as it was her initial idea that sparked the creation of what Rollin' Grocer is today, but has been a huge effort in development and implementation by several more people.
On their website they state that they are; "Kansas City's first mobile grocery store" having put their first truck into operation in early March 2016. Their goal is to cater to the needs of local residents located in the food deserts of their service area in Missouri and Kansas, providing options to those that would otherwise be left with very limited options, especially considering the recent announcement of the grocery store closings in an area already considered to be a food desert. Additionally, they also provide other necessities for their customers such as; baking supplies, cooking oils, infant food, condiments, some household goods as well as some health and beauty products.
From the onset of this idea they all had a passion for the project and felt it was a no-brainer, each recognizing the disparity in relation to Kansas City and the food deserts that citizens were dealing with on a daily basis. According to Natasha, Kansas City, Missouri at one time ranked 6th in the nation for food deserts. Being a major city that has two professional sports teams, one of the top ten performing arts centers in the world and major corporations, she struggles with how Kansas City could rank so badly in the nation for food deserts.
A question that has to enter ones mind in relation to the closing of these grocery stores in Kansas City, among other ones located through out the United States, is that perhaps the decision to close was just purely one of bottom line? In other words, are some of these stores making profit, but just not enough profit to satisfy the bean counters and shareholders? I personally wonder how much consideration is given to just how a closure like this is going to adversely affect those that depend upon that store and the services it provides? Could making a sub par amount of profit, which is still profit at the end of the day, be the primary reason for any of these closures? Only the companies can answer that question.
Rollin' Grocer has taken on the challenge of helping these additional areas, they are currently serving 96 stops, averaging 3 stops a day. When you take into account the time they need to travel from location to location, setting up and tearing down, they have only a certain amount of time they can spend at each stop. They do have a schedule of stops on their site which is very impressive and they are receiving requests to service specific areas on a regular basis.
They even service areas such as mobile home communities and assisted living facilities where residents may have an even greater challenge getting to a retailer. Meeting with churches, community groups, talking to social workers and others has allowed them an insight into areas that really can benefit from their service and has allowed them to hone in on some of the areas that are in most need.
Keeping their prices reasonable while providing this unique service has really helped to fill a gap in the market, those that shop at their mobile grocery have been very receptive and appreciative of their efforts. Another goal of Rollin' Grocer is to provide their customers the ability to take care of their needs for a seven day period, Rollin' Grocer achieves this goal by maximizing their displays and how their products are stored.
Their customer base is very diverse with Kansas City, being a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds can in its own create certain challenges for them. The goal of Rollin' Grocer is to provide healthy, basic needs for their community and to that end they seem to have succeeded. A statement on their website says; "We are dedicated to an evolving business that meets the changing needs of each neighborhood we enter. Integrity, respect for all cultures, religions and orientations are welcomed at our mobile grocery store." and speaking to Natasha you can tell these are not just words to her, they are a core principal of their business.
They accept cash, credit cards and EBT payments. Their ability to accept EBT means that they have met some fairly strict requirements by the state for what they are doing. They had made the decision that it was so important to be able to take EBT payments from the start that they were not going to provide service until they could. Working with the state they obtained that ability immediately, meeting the states stringent guidelines. Rollin' Grocer is also in the process of becoming able to accept WIC. They are also ADA compliant so that those with special access needs are taken care of and they will even help their customers do their shopping.
Are there plans for expansion in the near future? Yes, they are looking at having two trucks running in 2017 to help satisfy the needs of their clientele. Many people in that area already think they have two trucks running full-time due to the amount of stops they make.
Rollin' Grocer is not only paving the way by providing a unique and valuable service to the region, they are also setting an example for other employers. Companies are only as good as their employees and employee retention plays a huge factor in regards to good customer service, to that end they made the conscious decision to pay all of their full-time and part-time employees $15 per hour. By paying a higher wage do they lower their profit margin? Yes they do. But by paying a higher wage they help assure that they can keep their turnover rate minimal and do their part to assure their employees are taken care of financially. At the end of the day and looking at the long term, this is a decision that will help fuel their success in my opinion. "Our staff should be able to live off the money they make at Rollin' Grocer" Natasha said.
(Photo courtesy of Rollin' Grocer)
I have to say that I am very impressed by what I have learned about Rollin' Grocer. They are a for profit venture, a business trying to tap into a market where they saw a need. But more than just being a business, they are a part of their community. When a business tries as hard as they do to create a positive change in society around them, I have to tip my hat to them and wish them all the success in the world.
Natasha mentioned to me about a time when there were several young people that had come up to their grocery, trying to figure out what this trailer was that had setup in their neighborhood. She invited them in to look around, they mentioned that they didn't have any money to buy anything and she told them that it was fine, to come in and look around. After looking around for a little while one of the youths said to her "Usually anything this big coming to our neighborhood is taking people away.". That statement really hit home with her as it did me when I heard her talk about that moment.
What a great example of not only the entrepreneurial spirit of America but also of a company that cares for its employees and the people it serves.
(Photo courtesy of Rollin' Grocer)