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To assess produce availability, quality and price in a large sample of food stores in low-income neighbourhoods in California.
Cross-sectional statewide survey.
Between 2011 and 2015, local health departments assessed store type, WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children)/SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participation, produce availability, quality and price of selected items in stores in low-income neighbourhoods. Secondary data provided reference chain supermarket produce prices matched by county and month. t Tests and ANOVA examined differences by store type; regression models examined factors associated with price.
Large grocery stores (n 231), small markets (n 621) and convenience stores (n 622) in 225 neighbourhoods.
Produce in most large groceries was rated high quality (97 % of fruits, 98 % of vegetables), but not in convenience stores (25 % fruits, 14 % vegetables). Small markets and convenience stores participating in WIC and/or SNAP had better produce availability, variety and quality than non-participating stores. Produce prices across store types were, on average, higher than reference prices from matched chain supermarkets (27 % higher in large groceries, 37 % higher in small markets, 102 % higher in convenience stores). Price was significantly inversely associated with produce variety, adjusting for quality, store type, and SNAP and WIC participation.
The study finds that fresh produce is more expensive in low-income neighbourhoods and that convenience stores offer more expensive, poorer-quality produce than other stores. Variety is associated with price and most limited in convenience stores, suggesting more work is needed to determine how convenience stores can provide low-income consumers with access to affordable, high-quality produce. WIC and SNAP can contribute to the solution.
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