How WIC Authorization Influences Sales of Healthy Food and Beverages in Discount Variety Stores

In response to research on food deserts across the country, scholars and public health practitioners are encouraging limited service food stores, like discount stores, to expand their healthy food selections and accept SNAP and WIC benefits. By becoming WIC-authorized, these stores would be required to carry a certain number of healthy food items, which can improve food access in low-income communities that may lack a full-line grocery store.

In spring 2017, a discount variety store chain began piloting WIC-authorization for 10 of its stores in North Carolina. Interested in learning if this could be an economically viable corporate policy, the chain partnered with researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to evaluate three key questions:

  1. What are the barriers and facilitators to WIC-authorization experienced by the stores?
  2. How does WIC-authorization affect the sales of healthy foods and beverages? Do sales patterns vary by tender (WIC, SNAP, cash, credit)?
  3. How does WIC-authorization affect the sales of other non-WIC approved items? Do sales patterns vary by tender (SNAP, cash, credit)?

Thousands of discount stores sell food and operate in low-income urban and rural areas with insufficient access to healthy food. If adopting a corporate policy to implement a federal nutrition assistance program presented a sustainable business practice, discount stores could radically improve access to healthy food and beverages for low-income communities.