detox-vegetables.jpgSan Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar announced today he would introduce legislation that aims to form an incentive program for city food retailers to market and sell fresh food, especially more produce, and cut back on high fat and sugar items and tobacco and alcohol products.

The preponderance of corner stores in areas that are underserved by chain grocery stores, such as in the Bayview/Hunters Point, Tenderloin and even the Outer Richmond neighborhoods, are the focus of the proposed ordinance that would establish a “Healthy Food Retails Incentive Program.”

The incentive program, which has been piloted in the Bayview through the Southeast Food Access workgroup, or SEFA, and researched and pushed for by a coalition of other organizations including the Youth Leadership Institute and Tenderloin Healthy Corner Markets Coalition, and Jobs with Justice, would offer several incentives including permit expediting, store redesign, fa??ade improvements and access to grants and loans from the city.

The first part of the legislation is establishing the incentive program, which if passed by the board by the end of the year, would create a “one-stop shop,” or established entity, for retailers by July 1, 2013.

The city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development would coordinate the program and take the lead in modifying any existing incentive programs and regulations through other departments, such as the Department of Public Health.

“Many neighborhoods don’t have access to fresh food,” Mar noted at a City Hall news conference before today’s board meeting.

A 2011 assessment by SEFA in the Bayview District found that of the 19 corner stores in the neighborhood only 20 percent stocked fresh fruit and vegetables, 11 percent offered whole grain bread and only 37 percent had low-fat milk for sale.

The program is still being researched and outreach to grocer associations is under way, including talks with the Arab-American Grocers Association and the California Independent Grocers Association, to encourage store owners to adopt business plan changes for the good of the community, who ultimately suffer health problems with the lack of nutritious options, according to Mar.

The program will be voluntary and no restrictions or punishments established for those not abiding by new marketing and store inventory suggestions, Mar said.

A price tag on the new program, which will require at the very least some administrative costs with one dedicated staff member, was not clear.

However, program proponents, including Roberto Vargas with SEFA, said more access to produce and healthier food options would ultimately save the city in health care costs.

He noted in Bayview, obesity-related illnesses, such as diabetes, are prevalent and costly.

At the news conference, Malaysia Sanders, 19, part of the Youth Leadership Institute, reflected on her experience growing up in the Bayview and being attracted to sodas and chips that were placed in front of corner stores. She said her family patronized corner stores because of their geographic convenience compared to the large grocery stores at the outskirts of the neighborhood.

The coalition is aiming to reform how stores market their products, even if they are not eliminated from the shelves and refrigerators but are only pushed further back into stores.

A pilot program in the Bayview has been monitoring two stores, which have since received support in how to maintain produce and the equipment to offer fresh fruit and vegetables, Jobs with Justice representative Conny Ford said today.

She said data about the effectiveness pilot should be available in December to see how the introduction of produce and healthy food items affect the stores’ bottom lines.

The overall incentive program claims to support “mom and pop” stores that are threatened by formula retail grocery chains.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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