The Community Food Bank in Tucson, AZ, operates its own grocery store, the Value Foods Store, that sells food (and other) items at a substantial discount over regular grocery stores. The Food Bank also operates mobile markets in Pima County, AZ, that provide items from the Value Food Store to low-income areas with less access to grocery stores. The two communities examined in this study were the Old Nogales Highway Colonia and the New Pascua Yaqui Pueblo, 13 and 15 miles south of downtown Tucson.
This study uses market basket analysis to assess the impacts of mobile markets on the availability and affordability of food on the outskirts of Tucson, AZ. USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) is a market basket of items designed to meet basic nutritional requirements at minimal cost. The cost of purchasing food suggested by the TFP was compared with the costs of food from two alternative market baskets. A “Healthier” basket, patterned after a University of California, Davis study, had four times the dietary fiber and one-fifth the fat of the TFP. The second basket, used in an Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) study in Los Angeles, included more grains, legumes, and fresh fruits and vegetables than the TFP. It also contained more foods regularly included in Hispanic diets. The study further calculated the cost of items actually purchased at mobile markets if they had been purchased at local grocery stores.
In the study area, the average cost of purchasing food suggested by the TFP was lower than the national average. However, at the closest store to the Pascua Yaqui Pueblo, the TFP cost was 17 percent higher than the national average.
At the surveyed stores, the Healthier market basket cost an average of 10.6 percent more than the TFP cost, which is lower than the 18-percent average premium found in a similar study conducted by others in Sacramento and Los Angeles. Results were mixed for the UEPI market basket which, on average, cost 2.8 percent more than the TFP, but was less expensive than the TFP for half the stores surveyed.
Whole wheat bread and grain items, ground beef with less than 10-percent fat, and yolk-free noodles were more likely to be unavailable at surveyed stores. This result is consistent with previous research examining the availability of healthier food items in California stores.
Patrons of mobile markets recognize substantial savings on food costs.
By substituting mobile market purchases for regular supermarket purchases, a family of four could reduce the cost of purchasing TFP food by 10 percent, the cost of Healthier basket food by 6 percent, and the cost of UEPI basket food by 7 percent. These cost reductions were statistically significant at the 1-percent level even with a small sample size. Mobile markets periodically provide free bread as well as discounted grocery items. When free bread is included, mobile market substitution reduced the cost of TFP food by 12 percent, Healthier basket food by 9 percent, and UEPI basket food by 10 percent.
Items sold at mobile markets at the Pascua Yaqui Pueblo in May 2006 would have cost 47-85 percent more if purchased at local supermarkets. In other words, for every dollar spent at the mobile market, patrons saved 47-85 cents, with the size of savings depending on the comparison store. In May 2006, sales averaged $125.20 per mobile market visit, with total cost savings to the community ranging from $59 to $107 per visit. If five loaves of free white bread and five loaves of free whole grain bread are included in the calculation, total community cost reduction per mobile market visit increases to $75-$122 per visit. Community cost savings increase proportionally with total sales volume; therefore, cost savings will be greater in months with greater sales or if sales increase in the future.