New York City food desert program spurs grocery store development

FRESH initiative slated to bring 21 more locations and fresh food access to another 300,000 people.
Food Bazaar store banner-closeup
Bogopa's Food Bazaar grocery store banner is one of the retailers opening stores under NYC's FRESH program. / Photo: Food Bazaar

A New York City program to incentivize supermarket construction in food deserts has led to the opening of at least 30 of a planned 51 stores.

Called Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH), the 14-year-old Department of City Planning (DCP) initiative has facilitated the opening of new grocery stores in all five New York City boroughs—Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island—that now serve 1.2 million New York consumers, who live within a half-mile of those locations. Another 21 FRESH stores are in the development pipeline and will bring fresh food access to 300,000 more New Yorkers who previously had few green grocer options, DCP reported.

Among FRESH retailer participants, Brooklyn-based Bogopa Service Corp. has opened the most stores, primarily under its Food Bazaar banner. Its locations include four stores in Brooklyn, two in the Bronx and two in Queens.

Other FRESH independent grocers and retail cooperatives include Key Food Cooperative with four stores (under the Key Food, Superfresh and Food Universe Marketplace banners), Western Beef with four stores, Associated Supermarket Group with two stores (under the Met Fresh and Associated Marketplace banners), Wakefern Food Corp. with two stores (ShopRite) and Allegiance Retail Services with three stores (under the Foodtown, Brooklyn Harvest and Green Way Markets banners).

Ctown Supermarkets, America’s Food Basket (under Ideal Food Basket banner), Union Market, Lincoln Market, New Era Foods, Big Farm Wholesale, Moisha’s Kosher Discount Supermarket and Hatzlacha Supermarket also each have one store opened via the FRESH program.

New York City FRESH program-stores

Source: New York City Department of Planning

“All New Yorkers deserve to have fresh and healthy food within walking distance of their homes, and FRESH has brought much better food choices to 1.2 million New Yorkers,” DCP Director Dan Garodnick said in a statement. “With so many more stores in the queue, we expect that we are just scratching the surface here.”

Launched in 2009, the FRESH program gives property owners incentives to build fresh-food grocery stores in communities identified as underserved, or having inadequate grocery-store square footage for the population or no fresh food options within a comfortable walking distance. In exchange, owners can construct a building slightly larger than typically permitted by zoning and provide less parking than normally required for a grocery store. Qualifying FRESH stores also can receive certain tax breaks that lower the cost of owning, leasing, developing and renovating retail grocery space.

“The FRESH program is a critical step in addressing the long-standing inequity in access to healthy and affordable food in underserved New York communities. Conveniently located supermarkets with affordable, high-quality options ensure all communities can put nutritious food on the table for their families, which can also help to prevent related health disparities,” commented Andrew Kimball, president and CEO of New York City Economic Development Corp. “We look forward to continuing to work with our partners at the Department of City Planning on ensuring neighborhoods across the five boroughs have access to these essential stores and food options.”

Initially, FRESH rolled out to 20 community districts in four boroughs. Staten Island was added to the program in 2021 under an 11-district expansion that also includes parts of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. Since the expansion, five applications for FRESH supermarkets have been submitted in the new areas, part of the stores in development. Currently, about 450,000 New Yorkers live within one-half mile of a FRESH store in Brooklyn, the city’s most populous borough.

FRESH was devised in response to a study called "Going to Market", which spotlight a widespread shortage of neighborhood grocery stores providing fresh food in many New York City communities. The FRESH expansion emerged from a 2018 DCP assessment concluding that the program should include more areas. Also, in 2019, DCP launched the interactive Supermarket Needs Index to inform communities of nearby grocery stores and supermarkets and show which neighborhoods remain underserved.

“Making New York City healthier and more equitable are two central goals of our administration, and the FRESH program is accomplishing both by bringing greener and healthier supermarket options to 1.2 million New Yorkers,” stated New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “This program is a perfect example of how our administration is being creative and deploying every tool in our toolbox to promote New Yorkers’ well-being. And by relaunching programs like Groceries 2 Go [grocery subsidies for eligible consumers], our administration is targeting resources to our neighbors who need them most and ensuring everyone in our city can access the food that will provide them with the quality of life they deserve.”

The most recently opened FRESH store, not mentioned in DCP’s FRESH program update for February, is an 8,000-square-foot Green Way Markets store at 825 DeKalb Ave. in Brooklyn. Green Way is a supermarket banner of retailer-owned grocery co-op Allegiance Retail Services.



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