by Pat Jones, NGA project assistant
Northgate Gonzalez Markets is a family-owned independent grocery chain that has been operating in four California counties (Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and Riverside) for 41 years and currently operates 41 locations. The stores primarily serve Hispanic and moderate to low-income communities. The family firmly believes that nutrition education and healthy food should be available to everyone.
In 2009, the ownership noted an increase in diabetes and obesity among their shoppers and associates. To tackle these issues head on, they created a nutrition program called Viva la Salud (Long Live Health). Since then, the retailer has partnered with county programs, schools, health providers and non-profits to offer 70 nutrition-focused events per month to members of the Northgate Gonzalez community.
With health at the center of the Northgate Gonzalez mission statement, SNAP produce incentives seemed like a perfect fit when the retailer was approached about it by one of its partners, University of California San Diego (UCSD), in 2016.
“UCSD presented this program to the senior management as a chance to work with them,” said Teresa Blanco, Northgate’s director of community engagement and wellness. “It aligned with our goals of serving the community. We have a high SNAP EBT (Cal Fresh) audience of customers and knew they could definitely benefit from an incentive in helping them shop healthier.”
The grocer has been offering incentives since then in six of its 41 stores (two in each county, except for Riverside) and have noticed immediate benefits for its stores and shoppers.
“Customers are definitely buying more produce,” Blanco said, “and the program has helped keep customers loyal and in our stores on a weekly/monthly basis.”
The incentives have also helped build upon the existing trust established between Northgate Gonzalez and its community.
“Customers trust us,” Blanco said. “A few of our stores are located in food deserts where larger retailers have closed, and they need someone they can rely on.”
The folks at Northgate Gonzalez are also passionate about fresh fruit and vegetables, with more than 1,900 produce items eligible for this program. Because of this variety offered year-round, the grocer has branded its incentive program “¡Más Fresco” (‘More Fresh!’) and have limited the incentive to fresh produce, under the mantra that fresh is better.
“We could have offered frozen or canned produce,” said Brenda Lindberg, director of project management. “But we wanted to promote what we felt was fresh quality produce and teach customers the value of fresh product.”
With this focus on fresh, customers are also able to expand their horizons in meaningful ways. “There has even been an increase in organic product,” Blanco noted. “Customers that could never look at organics are now able to buy with incentives.”
Operating for the past five years, the ¡Más Fresco! program offers a dollar-for-dollar discount up to $40 a month, which in June will expand to all 41 stores with $100 a month available to customers, with promotions ranging from $1 to $2 or $1 to $4 (see promotion below). This will make it easier for customers to take advantage of the incentive at any Northgate Gonzalez store, stretch their budgets and capitalize on the already very popular program among associates and shoppers.
The folks at Northgate Gonzalez also believe that ¡Más Fresco! has helped to open doors at the federal level. Their partnership with UCSD has offered a tangible benefit to their customers that cannot be ignored and helped the federal government see just how important nutrition programs like this are to communities across the United States. Lindberg said that with the numbers generated from this program, “the USDA can see what’s happening on the front lines.”
As for other retailers interested in SNAP produce incentives, the team at Northgate Gonzalez Markets believes it is an easy sell.
“It’s good for business, good for the brand of the chain, good for an incentive on additional sales, good for getting new customers you never had or keeping customers” Lindberg said. “It’s a win-win on the community as well as business side. It’s profitable on both sides.”
To learn more about nutrition incentives and how you can bring them to your customers, visit the NGAF TA Center website and/or email the TA Center team at [email protected].
*The NGAF TA Center addresses the challenges grocers and supermarket operators face in establishing nutrition incentive programs and is a proud partner of the Nutrition Incentive Hub. The Nutrition Incentive Hub, funded through a cooperative agreement from the United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is a new resource that provides training, technical assistance, reporting and evaluation for those working to launch or expand SNAP incentives or produce prescription programs.
The Nutrition Incentive Hub is led by the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition in partnership with Fair Food Network along with a coalition of evaluators, researchers, practitioners, and grocery and farmers market experts from across the country dedicated to strengthening and uniting the best thinking in the field to increase access to affordable, healthy food to those who need it most.
Special thanks to Northgate Gonzalez team members Teresa Blanco, Brenda Lindberg, Mukesh Saxena (IT director for retail management and development) and Wendy Garcia (data integrity supervisor) for providing an interview.