What role do local grocery stores play in urban food environments? A case study of Hartford-Connecticut.

Research paper by Katie S KS Martin, Debarchana D Ghosh, Martha M Page, Michele M Wolff, Kate K McMinimee, Mengyao M Zhang

Indexed on: 11 Apr '14Published on: 11 Apr '14Published in: PloS one


Research on urban food environments emphasizes limited access to healthy food, with fewer large supermarkets and higher food prices. Many residents of Hartford, Connecticut, which is often considered a food desert, buy most of their food from small and medium-sized grocery stores. We examined the food environment in greater Hartford, comparing stores in Hartford to those in the surrounding suburbs, and by store size (small, medium, and large).We surveyed all small (over 1,000 ft2), medium, and large-sized supermarkets within a 2-mile radius of Hartford (36 total stores). We measured the distance to stores, availability, price and quality of a market basket of 25 items, and rated each store on internal and external appearance. Geographic Information System (GIS) was used for mapping distance to the stores and variation of food availability, quality, and appearance.Contrary to common literature, no significant differences were found in food availability and price between Hartford and suburban stores. However, produce quality, internal, and external store appearance were significantly lower in Hartford compared to suburban stores (all p<0.05). Medium-sized stores had significantly lower prices than small or large supermarkets (p<0.05). Large stores had better scores for internal (p<0.05), external, and produce quality (p<0.01). Most Hartford residents live within 0.5 to 1 mile distance to a grocery store.Classifying urban areas with few large supermarkets as 'food deserts' may overlook the availability of healthy foods and low prices that exist within small and medium-sized groceries common in inner cities. Improving produce quality and store appearance can potentially impact the food purchasing decisions of low-income residents in Hartford.