Urban food accessibility and diversity: Exploring the role of small non-chain grocers

Katharine Yang Bao, Daoqin Tong, David A. Plane, Stephanie Buechler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Access to a variety of affordable and healthy food has been a critical component in sustainable food-system planning. Research on food accessibility and food deserts (low-income areas with no or limited access to healthy food) can have important policy implications for alleviating health disparities. In the existing food access literature, supermarkets or large chain grocery stores have typically been used as the basis for measuring food access. Independent/non-chain grocers are often left out. We propose a multidimensional accessibility based assessment method to examine whether and how independent grocers help shape the food landscape and their locational strategy. A food desert elimination optimization model is formulated to evaluate the effectiveness of relying on small, full-service grocers for servicing food desert neighborhoods. The empirical study conducted in Tucson, Arizona indicates that, while full-service independent grocers fill some gaps left by chain markets, such stores are more helpful for improving food access diversity; this is reflected by the co-locating patterns of chain and non-chain stores. A few independent stores do, however, primarily serve food deserts in racially/ethnically diverse neighborhoods where higher proportions of residents rely on public assistance program and have limited mobility. Our case study suggests that small, independent grocers may have significant potential to aid in servicing areas with no or limited access to healthy food, particularly if policy incentives are provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102275
JournalApplied Geography
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • General Environmental Science
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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