Fresh Connect ‘food prescription’ network expands to include Walmart, Kroger and Albertsons

Program allows health care providers to “prescribe” prepaid debit cards to help consumers buy fresh produce.
Albertsons fresh produce department-El Paso TX store_Shutterstock
Albertsons has previously worked with financial services tech provider FIS to provide "food as medicine" benefits like Fresh Connect to customers. / Photo: Shutterstock

Walmart, Kroger and Albertsons have become part of the Fresh Connect network, a “food prescription” program operated by food access nonprofit About Fresh.

Boston-based About Fresh said a new agreement with financial services technology provider FIS enabled the expansion of Fresh Connect to a national network of more than 10,000 grocery retail locations, including the three food retail giants. Leveraging the FIS Filtered Spend platform, Fresh Connect allows participating consumers to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables at their preferred local store, swipe a prepaid debit card at checkout and have the cost of eligible healthy foods automatically deducted from the total purchase price.

“As a retailer that operates popular supermarkets such as Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco and Shaw’s in communities across the country, our partnership with About Fresh and FIS gives Fresh Connect program recipients more options when shopping for nutritious food,” Irina Pelphrey, vice president of health and managed care at Albertsons Cos., said in a statement. “For many of those shoppers who already shop our stores and pharmacies for needs outside of their monthly benefit, the ability to now use their Fresh Connect card will be a tremendous convenience.”

Fresh Connect’s prepaid debit cards are funded by health care organizations. Food insecure patients are signed up by health providers according to baseline health indicators, with monthly card disbursement amounts set through the HIPAA-compliant platform’s enrollment form. Participants get their cards in the mail and can use them to buy fresh produce at grocery stores, restaurants and other food retailers, including online.

“We are building a first-of-its-kind infrastructure, making it possible for health plans, providers, community-based organizations and others to leverage the scale and efficiency of grocery retail and e-commerce to maximize the value of their investment into ‘food as medicine,’” according to Josh Trautwein, co-founder and CEO of About Fresh.

Fresh Connect food prescription card-About Fresh

The Fresh Connect food prescription debit card from About Fresh. / Photo courtesy of About Fresh

Fresh Connect is designed to provide people with the money and flexibility to buy the foods they need for health and wellness, About Fresh noted. The cloud-based platform integrates seamlessly with health care IT infrastructure and workflow and streamlines program administration and measurement, the nonprofit said. Participants, too, receive ongoing, personalized cardholder support from the point of enrollment.

“Enabling access to healthy and affordable foods to a wider group of people is a critically important mission,” stated Chris Como, senior vice president and division executive for cards and money movement at FIS. “We’re proud to leverage FIS payment technology to make the payment experience easier and more seamless for families who want to bring fresh food options into their homes.”

Over 35 million Americans lack reliable and affordable food access because of low wages, food price inflation and limited grocery retail options, About Fresh reported, noting that Fresh Connect generates “compelling evidence” for the value of food prescriptions. For example, in the last half of 2022, 74% of Medicaid-funded Fresh Connect cardholders in Massachusetts used their card at least once a month to buy fresh produce, and active cardholders spent an average of 83% of their available benefit.

“Joining the FIS Filtered Spend network is a significant milestone,” Trautwein added, “as it will allow shoppers across the country to use their Fresh Connect card at more than 10,000 stores to purchase the foods foundational to good health and do so in a manner that is convenient, joyful and reverent of food culture.”

Ahold Delhaize USA’s Stop & Shop chain was the first major retailer to make the Fresh Connect produce-as-a-prescription program available, About Fresh announced in late January 2022. Fresh Connect was initially piloted at Stop & Shop’s Grove Hall store in Dorchester, Massachusetts, before rolling out to the grocer’s 400-plus stores in New England and the Northeast that spring.

Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons has previously worked with FIS—representing supplemental health benefits administrators like Fresh Connect, Pay Forward and WEX—to use its payment platform and with benefits card provider Soda Health, which tailors health benefits to individual needs. The partnership enables consumers using FIS- and Soda Health-integrated benefit cards to purchase eligible food and health products at supermarkets such as Albertsons, Safeway, Jewel-Osco, Vons, Shaw’s, Tom Thumb and Acme.

Ready access to food and health benefits recently became more difficult for many Americans. At the start of March, pandemic-extended benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) expired nationwide, cutting critical food dollars for SNAP recipients. According to consumer data specialist Numerator, SNAP participants account for nearly a quarter of total U.S. spending on consumer packaged goods.

And in early June, legislation to lift the U.S. debt ceiling became law, and negotiations included an extension of SNAP work requirements to beneficiaries ages 50 to 54. The change put about 750,000 older adults at risk of losing food assistance, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported.



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