The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently published a report to assess eaters’ perceptions of dollar stores. It finds that these businesses can be important fixtures in communities and suggests there are opportunities to use their position to increase access to healthy foods.

“The goal of our healthy retail work is to ensure that people have access to healthy food no matter where they live or shop. Dollar stores have been top of mind for us within the space and so that’s really where the inspiration motivation for this report came from,” Sara John, Deputy Director at CSPI and co-author of the report, tells Food Tank.

The authors of the report sought to understand the role dollar stores play in providing food, particularly for financially constrained households. To do this, CSPI researchers collected data through a national survey, focused on 750 individuals living near dollar stores with limited financial resources. The survey looked at respondents’ perceptions, shopping behaviors, and views on healthy choices within these stores.

The report finds that dollar stores, rapidly proliferating across the United States, play a significant role in food acquisition for communities. Respondents viewed dollar stores positively for their convenience and affordability but identified barriers such as low-quality products, inadequate staffing, and limited healthy food availability, urging for increased access to healthier choices within these stores.

“We’re hoping, at least from a corporate perspective, that the survey results demonstrate to Dollar General and Dollar Tree stores that healthy food expansion, especially in areas that stand the benefit the most, makes sense for both their business and the communities they serve,” John shares with Food Tank.

CSPI reports that dollar stores are the fastest-growing food retailer in the United States by number and dollars spent on food. Data from Nielsen shows that there are over 37,000 dollar stores in the U.S. and CSPI reports that more than 35,000 of these stores are owned by just two companies: Dollar Tree and Dollar General. According to John, just 16 percent of Dollar Generals offer fresh produce in their stores.

Read the full article about community food access by Elena Seeley at Food Tank.