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Expanding the Reach of Healthy Food Incentives across Ohio

Through funding from the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Nutrition Incentive Program (OH-NIP) is working to expand healthy food access through statewide implementation of the Produce Perks healthy food incentive program. Produce Perks, which initially started as a farmers’ market incentive program, offers a dollar-for-dollar match on fruit and vegetable purchases made by customers using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In the new statewide project, Produce Perks is furthering its reach by including implementation in both farmers’ markets and grocery stores. The PRCHN is the lead evaluator of this statewide initiative working in collaboration with two implementing partners: W holesome Wave and Produce Perks Midwest.  

Prior to this project, about 75 farmers’ markets in Ohio offered Produce Perks benefits yet there were very few grocery stores implementing incentive programs. Through this project, Produce Perks was piloted for the first time at a chain supermarket in Ohio in Ffall 2017. During the four-week pilot, over 3,000 incentive coupons were given out to SNAP customers indicating the potential reach of a grocery retail model for healthy food incentive programming.

Each of the incentive coupons was tied to a sales receipt, and this information is being used to form a database at the PRCHN to better understand food purchasing patterns among SNAP customers with the goal of using this information to inform future programming. The research team is still analyzing redemption patterns of the incentive coupons, but preliminary estimates indicate about 14% of the coupons were redeemed by customers. “Consumer data reveals less than 1% of store coupons are redeemed at supermarkets so our rates of about 14% look very promising, indicating the incentive to buy produce was of value to SNAP customers,” noted Darcy Freedman, PRCHN Associate Director and Principal Investigator of this evaluation.

PRCHN Research Associate Stephanie Pike has been diving into the sales receipt data linked to each of the incentives distributed and redeemed. She noted the proportion of spending on fruits and vegetables increased from 9% on receipts when a coupon was distributed to 39% on receipts when a coupon was redeemed, and the total amount spent on produce doubled. Pike is heartened by these increases, noting, "It's a substantial increase in produce spending. Our next analytic step is to explore if these changes are customer-specific or if overall trends in fruit and vegetable purchasing improved."

Findings of the supermarket pilot revealed the importance of store capacity to implement a healthy food incentive program. The pilot supermarket was organized, held strictly to procedures, and developed their own system for managing the redemption data and receipts and coupons. Lessons learned highlight the importance of marketing to make sure customers are aware of these programs including targeted advertisements in English and Spanish and in key venues. All of these best practices are now being integrated in a program model that will be expanded across Ohio through the leadership of Produce Perks Midwest, a nonprofit based in Cincinnati.

As with most work at the PRCHN, this evaluation relies on the outstanding efforts of trainees, including PhD students Gwendolyn Donley and Roberto Martinez, who conducted their first year PhD rotations at the PRCHN; foodNEST research assitant Mary Bailey; and Natalie Fishlin, a Nursing student doing her Community Health rotation with this project.
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