by Greg Ferrara / President and CEO, National Grocers Association
The ethos of the independent grocer includes a commitment to the community. In the grocery business, that often means helping families that are faced with food insecurity.
One of the cornerstones of this mission is the public-private partnership of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for which retailers play a critical role in administering efficiently and effectively.
To fully serve their communities, retailers must have the ability to accept SNAP payments for groceries online, especially in areas of the country where the independent grocer may be the only convenient shopping option.
As the adoption of online grocery shopping accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, many independent grocers found themselves unable to accept SNAP payments for online purchases due to technical, financial and bureaucratic hurdles that smaller retailers were less likely to clear than their larger competitors.
Fortunately, help is on the way.
NGA applauds the enhancements to national nutrition programs included in the American Rescue Plan Act, which recently was signed into law by President Joe Biden. Among them is a provision for $25 million to promote technological improvements for SNAP online purchasing, modernizing the Electronic Benefits Transfer system and supporting SNAP mobile payment technologies.
The SNAP online purchasing program often is technically challenging to set up, particularly for small and mid-size grocers, so the new funds are a welcome addition that will further enhance the opportunity for independent community grocers to participate.
In an effort to provide assistance to member retailers, NGA soon will launch a “SNAP Online Purchasing Toolkit” that outlines the steps retailers may take to accept SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer payments online.
For many Americans, the independent community supermarket is the only lifeline in their struggle against food insecurity. While independent grocers have aggressively pursued pandemic-driven expansion of their e-commerce platforms to meet this demand, an important demographic remains elusive – online shoppers who need to redeem SNAP benefits.
Due to the aforementioned obstacles to setup, big-box or chain retailers often have an edge against smaller businesses.
The purpose of NGA’s toolkit is to provide guidance to independent supermarket retailers in adding SNAP online purchasing as a payment they can support.
Streamlining the process to accept SNAP for online grocery purchases will ensure that independent supermarkets are doing all they can to furnish essential goods to community members most in need.
The toolkit provides detailed information on the SNAP online purchasing requirements retailers must meet in order to participate in the program.
There are tips and instructions for getting set up, including a breakdown of various scenarios retailers may find themselves in before approaching the setup process. They can also find background information, best practices and a template letter of intent to email the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.
NGA created the toolkit using information gathered during interviews with retailers, e-commerce providers and third-party processors after the pilot program was expanded in 2020.
Wright’s Markets in Opelika, Ala., was the first independent grocer to launch SNAP online purchasing.
“COVID-19 accelerated online shopping at an unprecedented pace,” said Jimmy Wright, owner. “NGA has made a significant commitment to its retail members to assist in onboarding a SNAP online purchasing program in order to serve SNAP customers at such a crucial time and also allow us to compete with the bigger e-commerce players that accept SNAP payments online.
“NGA was instrumental in helping me navigate the application process for the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot. From lobbying for the project in the 2014 Farm Bill, to applying for the initial RFA in 2016, to the announcement that we had been selected in 2017 and onto the program launch in 2020, NGA has been with me every step of the way.”
It’s our intent to do the same for other independent retailers who require guidance to get on board with SNAP online purchasing.
Available free to NGA members, the toolkit can be found at nationalgrocers.org/resource-center.