by Kristen Cloud/staff writer
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, in Florida has seen two big changes this year—one proving a positive for retailers; another impacting their bottom line, and not for the good.
In January, the work requirements for food assistance for an Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) changed. An ABAWD is between the age of 18 and 49; physically or mentally able to work; does not live and eat with a child under age 18; is not pregnant; and is not otherwise exempt from food assistance work program requirements.
If one is an ABAWD who is physically and mentally able to work and does not have any of the exceptions, they are required to participate in the SNAP Employment and Training program, operated by Local Workforce Development Areas (LWDA) across the state.
The change that took effect in January requires an ABAWD who wishes to continue receiving food assistance to work or volunteer 20 hours per week (averaged to 80 hours monthly); participate 20 hours per week in an LWDA work program (averaged to 80 hours monthly); and/or complete a combination of these activities that averages to 80 hours monthly.
The change impacted approximately 300,000 SNAP recipients, whose benefits were halted until they could (or can) show proof of meeting the new work requirements, according to Josie Legido Correa, executive director of the Florida Grocers Association (FGA), who tells The Shelby Report the change has “created a bit of a downturn for supermarkets.”
In Alachua County (Gainesville), for example, there were 6,338 ABAWDs receiving SNAP benefits as of January. That number had dropped to 4,572 in March, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. In Leon County (Tallahassee), the number dropped from 7,123 in January to 5,098 in March, and in Duval County (Jacksonville), the count went from 28,082 in January to 20,159 in March.
“It’s definitely created a drop in SNAP sales for a lot of supermarkets over the past three months,” Correa says.
Why the change?
Federal law mandates that food assistance benefits for ABAWDs must have time limits and work requirements. Until Jan. 1, time limits and work requirements had not been mandatory since 2009 because of high unemployment rates, which have significantly improved in Florida. In other words, the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 required ABAWDs to participate in work-related activities to receive SNAP benefits. However, during times of high unemployment, the federal requirement can be waived, as has been the case in Florida since 2009. Florida’s improved economy has made the state ineligible to waive the federal requirement, explaining why it was implemented again at the beginning of the year.
Florida’s unemployment rate of 4.9 percent is the lowest it’s been since the end of 2007 and is on course with the 5.0 percent national average.
SNAP distribution period expands from 15 to 28 days
It’s not entirely bad news for supermarkets when it comes to SNAP. Monthly distribution dates for the program increased from 15 days to 28 days in Florida on April 1.
Correa says the FGA and its parent council, the Florida Retail Federation, were involved in pushing for the legislation last year. It will significantly benefit both customers and retailers, she notes.
“This allows businesses to have better inventory controls and, that way, be able to provide better service to their clients; make sure they have the needed items in stock and are well stocked,” she says.
SNAP benefits are distributed to 3.6 million Florida recipients and represent nearly $5.5 billion in economic impact to the state’s economy.
Competition fierce across all grocery channels
North Florida has long been a bustling hub for grocery retail. From traditional stores like Publix and Winn-Dixie (the latter’s parent company, Southeastern Grocers, is based in Jacksonville) to discount chains like Aldi to specialty grocers such as Whole Foods Market and Earth Fare, this region of the state is inundated with competition.
One specialty chain that entered Florida last year is Lucky’s Market. The Colorado-based grocer debuted its first Florida store at 1459 NW 23rd Avenue in Gainesville and has opened a couple more locations in the Sunshine State since. In North Florida, Lucky’s—which recently received a “meaningful investment” from grocery giant The Kroger Co. to accelerate the small chain’s growth in new and existing markets—is expected to open stores at 580 Atlantic Boulevard in Neptune Beach and at 1964 West Tennessee Street in Tallahassee soon.
Also in Gainesville, Whole Foods has signed a lease to open one of its new concept stores—365 by Whole Foods Market, offering “a grocery shopping experience focused on making healthy, everyday shopping easy and affordable while upholding the same industry-leading quality standards that Whole Foods Market pioneered,” according to the Austin, Texas-based grocer. The very first 365 by Whole Foods Market will open May 25 in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. An opening date for the Gainesville store has not been announced.
Other specialty grocers, like North Carolina-based The Fresh Market, which has dozens of stores in Florida and which in late April was acquired by an affiliate of Apollo Global Management for $1.36 billion, announced in January that it had signed a lease for a new location in Fleming Island. The store is expected to open early this fall and will be located at Island Walk, at 1960-100 East West Parkway.
According to Correa, grocers like Earth Fare and Aldi also continue to look for locations in the region.
Earth Fare, in fact, is expected to take over a space at 11700 San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville in the Mandarin South shopping center previously leased by Wood You Furniture, which recently relocated. According to Jacksonville’s The Daily Record, the natural and organic foods grocer opened its first Jacksonville store in August 2014 at the Atlantic North shopping center at 11901 Atlantic Boulevard.
At the time, Earth Fare CFO Scott Little said the company wanted to open up to four stores in Jacksonville, including in Mandarin and Westside.
Earth Fare, based in North Carolina, has not confirmed the Mandarin South location. A spokeswoman told the Record the company would be in contact when it is ready to make a statement. The manager at Earth Fare’s Atlantic North store referred the newspaper’s questions to Earth Fare corporate.
Preferred Growth Properties LLC bought the 4.9-acre, nearly 70,000-s.f. Mandarin South center for $4.7 million. Mandarin South was developed in 1982.
The available anchor space is up to 41,000 s.f. and more than 20 years ago housed a Winn-Dixie, which has opened across the street. Wood You Furniture occupied about 6,000 s.f. within the former Winn-Dixie space.
A much different retailer than Earth Fare also is expanding across the nation and in North Florida. Aldi, which opened its first California stores earlier this year, will anchor Jacksonville’s Town Center Promenade. Development plans include approximately 33,000 s.f. of restaurant space, including three restaurants new to North Florida, and 25,000 s.f. of retail space. Aldi has leased 17,825 s.f. of that retail space.
Construction on the mixed-used development is slated to start mid-year, with plans to open in spring 2017.
Fellow discount grocer Save-A-Lot, a Supervalu banner, is slated to open a new Jacksonville store as well, along University Boulevard West at Beney Road, bringing the company’s Jacksonville presence to 11 locations, according to the Record. The store is expected to open by late September at 5995 University Boulevard W. in a 15,645-s.f. space formerly leased for the Fortis Institute, which consolidated at its Orange Park location.
Two Southside shopping centers with Publix connections picked up for $50M; Regional favorite to anchor new East San Marco development
Also according to the Record, two shopping centers along Jacksonville’s Beach and Atlantic boulevards, not far from the Intracoastal Waterway, changed hands in late March for nearly $50 million.
A New York investor took control of the Medical & Merchants Center along southeast Beach Boulevard and San Pablo Road for $25.7 million. And a company related to Lakeland-based Publix bought the Harbour Place Shopping Center at southwest Atlantic and Hodges boulevards for $24 million.
Coincidentally, Publix anchors both centers and intends to renovate both stores, the newspaper reports.
The regional favorite also will anchor a long-awaited East San Marco retail and apartment development; construction will begin in late summer.
Completion of the estimated $60 million development is expected in late 2018, when the 239 apartments on top of 46,000 s.f. of retail space will be completed at the corner of Atlantic Boulevard and Hendricks Avenue.
Publix will anchor it with a 32,500-s.f. store, finally making real a deal that surfaced in 2002, the Record reports. Another five to seven retail shops, including a “chef-driven” restaurant, are possible to round out the retail space.
According to Regency Centers Corp., which owns the site and will run the retail portion, the ground floor will be used for parking for Publix and retail customers.
“We’ve been committed to this site since 2006 and look forward to serving the beautiful San Marco community,” said Publix spokesman Dwaine Stevens in the news release.
That’s the year that Regency Centers and The St. Joe Co., the former developer, announced the project.