Online SNAP Pilots - What it Means to Retail RDNs
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
When the pandemic hit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) opened up applications to its SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot. This year hundreds of grocers are looking to allow shoppers to pay for online orders with the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. Here are some things you should know about these pilots and the possible implications for retail wellness programs.
May help address food insecurity – Many retailers have programs in place to help their communities address food insecurity and the ability to use EBT cards for e-commerce could be an integral part of these efforts. For vulnerable populations like seniors, people with disabilities, or those with transportation issues, SNAP online purchasing can be an important service for expanding both access to groceries and nutritious products. Retail RDNs can communicate the availability of this service during appropriate educational interventions.
Need to understand other barriers – Online purchasing is helpful but other barriers may need to be overcome so SNAP participants can successfully prepare nourishing meals. A study released in June 2021 entitled “Barriers that Constrain the Adequacy of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Allotments” found that 88% of participants reported encountering some type of barrier to healthful eating in addition to cost. These barriers included a lack of time to prepare meals from scratch, knowledge about healthful foods and food storage, lack of kitchen equipment, and minimal cooking skills.
Include needed services – Nationally, 42% of SNAP participants are in working families; 66% are in families with children; and 36% are in families with members who are elderly or have disabilities. Consider how you could offer pertinent educational services to these shoppers online and connect with your e-commerce team to show how your expertise could add value and drive more purchases. Start with the basics and offer educational information in short snippets that will resonant such as simple recipes with canned or frozen foods, quick assembly meal ideas and kid-friendly options.
Consider incentives – The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive program provides grant funding to support and evaluate projects intended to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers participating in the SNAP program. Examples of incentive programs that have increased the consumption of fresh produce among SNAP consumers include Double-Up Food Bucks programs as well as fruit and vegetable prescription programs. These incentive programs could play an important role in influencing online food purchases.
Partner for success – Community RDNs who work with low-income populations may welcome the opportunity to partner with you to help find ways to offer nutrition and meal planning tips online to shoppers. In addition, they may have resources and tools that could be repurposed and used with a retail partner. In turn, they would recommend your SNAP online purchasing program to their clients looking for this service.