Mark’s Food Market in Greenville, N.C., is doing a big business with fruits and vegetables, following a pilot program that began three years ago.
The pilot program was part of the Pitt County Healthy Corner Stores Initiative, which began in 2010, when Pitt County received a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Local officials wanted to invest in “food deserts,” where affordable, healthy food is hard to find, the Huffington Post reported.
County officials and students from East Carolina University studied various candidates, and in April 2011, they chose Mark’s Food Market, due to its proximity to a mobile home park that is home to many people who don’t drive, limiting their ability to go grocery shopping, and partly because of the store owner David Rizek’s willingness to participate.
Rizek had been in the convenience store business for about 30 years, and also owned a grocery store in Greenville. While he liked the concept of offering fruits and vegetables, he had never done so, as customers had never demanded it, and the refrigeration required was expensive.
The Pitt County Healthy Store Initiative bought the refrigerator needed. At first Rizek sold the produce by the pound. Now he offers single-serve items in clear, plastic containers, which has helped maximize his sales.
Rizek has been selling bananas, grapes, oranges, apples, strawberries, potatoes and onions ever since the pilot launched, and the produce sales continue to beat those of candy, chips and other convenience-store staples at his stores. “I started seeing big ol’ trucks pull up just to buy a container of grapes or oranges,” he told the Huffington Post.
He keeps the refrigerator of fruit in the main aisle where 99% of his traffic is certain to see it.
He told the Huffington Post, the profit margin is vastly better than cigarettes and pretty much everything else he sells. He’s urged several fellow convenience store owners to follow his lead in beefing up their fresh fruit selection and, “it’s working for them.”
Even more surprising, customers often cancel their roller grill order once they realize the store sells fruit, and opt for an orange instead.
The success of the fruit business is even more surprising when looking at the demographics of the area. In Pitt County, more than 25% of all residents live below the poverty level, and more than 75% fail to eat the recommend amount of fruits and vegetables daily. Meanwhile, Greenville has more than 100 fast-food restaurants for fewer than 90,000 residents, the Huffington Post reported.
Even Rizek himself noted he has started eating healthier since the fruit arrived at his store, and many customers tell him about their own healthier choices inspired by the launch, including one truck driver who switched to eating grapes on his route instead of junk food, after he first bought some at Mark’s Food Market.