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The Portland Tribune in Oregon reports that New Seasons Market plans to “put its next grocery store in a North Portland neighborhood on the edge of what some define as one of the city’s ‘food deserts’.”

Lisa Sedlar, CEO at New Seasons, tells the paper that “the success of her company’s inner-city stores shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, full-service grocery stores can make a profit in low-income neighborhoods.”

However, the Tribune writes that “some national experts say that food deserts may not be as much of a public health issue as many believe. Instead, they say, erasing food deserts is equally about sustainability – supporting local farmers, keeping local money circulating locally and encouraging residents to walk rather than drive to get their groceries.

“Last summer, Multnomah County began offering free refrigeration systems to small mom=-and-pop groceries so they can carry at least a small selection of fresh produce along with the beer, soft drinks and cigarettes that typically dominate their sales. Public money was used to assist the opening of the Village Market in New Columbia, a North Portland community that includes many public housing units. Federal money funneled through Multnomah County is being used to fund obesity prevention programs in schools, especially in neighborhoods where full-service grocery stores don’t exist.”
KC's View:
I think all those programs are fine, but it doesn’t replace the importance of having a neighborhood supermarket that offers diverse, tasty, nutritious food ... and does so while turning a profit, which is what New Seasons has done before and plans to do again.

Here’s how the Tribune frames Sedlar’s approach:

“New Seasons, she says, seeks to become a neighborhood store and address some of the underlying causes of poor nutrition in poor neighborhoods. Availability of fresh produce and healthy food choices isn’t the only barrier to eliminating diabetes and other diseases, Sedlar says. Another component is education.

“Free samples of healthy food and kitchen demonstrations help, she says, as does placing healthier choices next to the traditional unhealthy snack foods. So does hiring from the neighborhood, because local residents will come in to see a friend or neighbor working in the store. Neighborhood residents also will know what the local shoppers want in the store.

New Seasons gives 10 percent of its after-tax profits to community organizations or events and 20 percent of its profits back to its staff in the form of profit sharing. When some of those employees are neighborhood residents, that word can get around, too.”

I’ve always thought that NewSeasons is one of the most enlightened companies I’ve ever run across, combining a passion for the local community with a highly developed food culture and a strong focus on health.

It is a winning combination, and it is great to see that the company has found a sustainable way to bring it to inner city neighborhoods and food deserts.