Rural U.S. consumers may face challenges finding access to retail food stores, especially if they live in regions with high poverty rates and decreasing population. To address the retail food store access issue, Federal policymakers have passed legislation such as the 2010 Healthy Food Financing Initiative. It was created to attract grocery stores to certain areas and give existing retailers incentives to sell healthy products in underserved communities.
USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers recently examined the changing retail food landscape in the United States, with a focus on rural areas and grocery stores. They found that in rural counties, grocery stores have declined, while dollar stores and supercenters have increased steadily. They also found that although single-location grocery stores outnumbered chains in 2015, they have been decreasing in share of food retailers.
Using data from the National Establishment Time Series, ERS researchers studied the food retail landscape across the 48 contiguous States from 1990 to 2015. They conducted their analysis using descriptive statistics on three categories of counties based on population size: rural nonmetro (fewer than 2,500 people), small urban nonmetro (2,500 to 19,999 people), and large urban nonmetro (20,000 or more people). The researchers divided retailers into five categories: grocery stores, convenience stores, specialty food stores, warehouse clubs and supercenters, and dollar stores. They studied changes in the number and types of these stores in rural nonmetro counties and compared that data with large and small urban nonmetro counties.
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