Update on SNAP and Ecommerce

Update on SNAP and Ecommerce

January 25, 2023
Shari Steinbach
Retail Industry Insights

By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, Contributing Editor

Online grocery shopping is a safe, convenient and secure way to shop for food while saving SNAP participants both time and money. Therefore, expanding the diversity of online shopping retailers is a key focus of the USDA and their nutrition security goal to provide better access to affordable, safe, and healthy foods. What started as an online pilot program with eight retailers in 2017 has now expanded to include over 150 retail chains representing thousands of stores, and consumers are responding. In July 2022, just over three million SNAP households shopped online, which is a substantial increase from March 2020, when about 35,000 SNAP households shopped online.

To help expand the program, the USDA is actively providing technical assistance to all stakeholders interested in offering SNAP online purchasing, namely smaller, independent supermarkets. In addition, a $5 million competitive grant was announced in July of 2022 to assist with retail expansion of SNAP online purchasing. The SNAP EBT Modernization Technical Assistance Center grant will fund an organization to provide “extensive support” to retailers with the technology and systems necessary to enable SNAP e-commerce. The grant is funded by the American Rescue Plan stimulus legislation.

Other initiatives include the development of a pilot to allow SNAP consumers to use their smartphones to buy groceries at the checkout counter. The goal is to enable SNAP participants to input their EBT card into a mobile device and make purchases in-store without the presence of their card. There is also a push to get more convenience stores on board with SNAP online purchasing which would be a win-win scenario. This opportunity can open new revenue streams for C-stores while meeting customer needs. Of the 250,000 grocers that accept SNAP EBT today, 44 percent of those are convenience stores. Through in-store transactions, C-stores account for approximately five percent of total SNAP spend. But C-stores are noticeably missing from the online SNAP retailer set.

Finally, Mercato, an e-commerce and delivery platform that serves independent grocers, recently announced the launch of an initiative aiming to improve access to healthy food options in low-income areas. The program, known as “Thriving Communities,” works with local governments, private donors and non-profit organizations to help grocers establish an online presence, offer delivery service and accept SNAP benefits online. Mercato hopes that establishing the Thriving Communities program will create more jobs, drive increased sales for grocers and help local communities thrive by providing a means for people use public and private benefits to obtain healthy, culturally appropriate foods.