Since 2018 I have been working with colleagues at the University of Sheffield on a research project, Fresh Street, that offers £5 weekly vouchers to families that they can use to buy fruits and vegetables from small local shops or via a veg bag delivery scheme. I talked about this work recently in an article in The Mint Magazine. They have made the article publically available. This is what they have to say about the project.
We see the particular advantages of the Fresh Street approach as being:
- Offers food support that is not stigmatizing. Rather than target households based on financial need, the approach is area-based with areas identified as those within highly deprived with the Index of Multiple Deprivation classification. as such everyone within the target location receives the vouchers regardless of their ability to demonstrate need. Stigma is a problem with many poverty-related food support activities as access is often determined by being ‘on-benefits’ or otherwise being poor, which then when accessed signals this need to others within the communities where recipients live. As a result of this stigma, people avoid accessing services that would be helpful to them.
- Barriers to use are low. In our project, anyone living in the designated area is able to receive the vouchers. That’s it. Nothing to demonstrate. No forms to fill out. Uptake of the vouchers was 80% in the trial area, with 88% of the vouchers redeemed.
- Addresses the two-sided market problem. When demand does not meet supply, supplier reduces or stops offering a product because it is not profitable. When supply is reduced, even if people wanted to access a good or service they cannot. By offering a voucher over a period of time, there is both a steady demand for the product which means that the supplier has a stable market and will continue to offer the good. We found in our project that not only did people start using small-scale retailers for their fruits and vegetables, they also tended to buy additional fruits and vegetables from the same vendor at the same time.
- Increases uptake of fruits and vegetables in communities where previously uptake was low. Many of the people who participated in our project said they changed how they ate so that they were eating more fruits and vegetables. There is more in the article about this. We also found that because the fruits and vegetables were essentially free to those receiving the vouchers they were also trying foods that they had not tried before. A diverse diet is important for global food sustainability and is identified as something that is important for addressing climate change.
The initial project was funded via a research grant from the Medical Research Council and was supported by Barnsley Council, Sheffield City Council, and The Alexandra Rose Charity. This project was a feasibility study to see if our approach is socially acceptable to participants. We have now submitted a further grant application, with Queen Mary University as the lead institution, to extend the voucher scheme. We are waiting to hear back on the success of that application.