This week’s launch of a new grocery store concept, The Daily Table, has drawn a great deal of media attention. As it should. A retail model utilizing wasted food? The innovative market is a non-profit enterprise. And it plans to provide healthy food at low-cost in a Boston neighborhood with traditionally poor food access. Another twist? Its shelves are full of surplus and aging food…and the foods being sold are healthy. No junk food here. There’s even a Nutrition Task Force to make sure that what’s being sold is healthy and nourishing. The grocery also employs a “top-notch” chef to prepare food that is ready to go.
Prices are low, because much of the stock is donated by food wholesalers or markets. The food would otherwise have been discarded.
The store is the brainchild of Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s. He sees Daily Table as “a nonprofit health-care initiative masquerading as a retail grocery store.”
So why is a retail model a good use for wasted food?
“America has 49 million food-insecure people. Coming up with sustainable, viable solutions requires two things. First, the solution must be economically sustainable; we need market-based solutions. Second, the solution must build a community up and engender dignity and self-respect.
What I like about retail, even if we are selling for pennies on the dollar, is that the customer still has the power. They choose their own food, you don’t select it for them. Cornell University has research that if you give a kid an apple, it will wind up in the trash because there is no emotional or psychological engagement associated with choice. If you allow the kid to choose the apple, the kid will eat it. And we have to earn their patronage every day.
Retail creates a sustainable model because we have to respond to our customers. Because we are a non-profit though, our goal is to break even. We price healthy foods to compete with junk food options in the neighborhood, because our competitor is fast food. Poverty is not just about economics, it’s about time—people in economically challenging circumstances have even less time than others.”
How might Daily Table or stores like it fit into the future of food?
“Nutrition is the cheapest form of health care. We, as a nation, must figure out a way to address the health care tsunami that will hit us, before the morbidities associated with bad nutrition really start hitting. Whether it’s through the Affordable Care Act or private insurance we will all pay for it, so let’s try to pay for it before it arises.
The Daily Table is not a silver bullet; it’s an arrow in a quiver. We’re planning on having life-skills workshops for our employees soon, with legal and financial literacy, nutrition, and public speaking classes so they can make their best contribution in their community. We will pay them for their time even though it’s not directly related to the Daily Table because it’s job training to be their very best.
I love retail for all of these reasons. You anchor community and are face-to-face with the end user, can educate and nudge them. As with Trader Joe’s or other companies that are known for great customer service, if you treat people with respect in a warm environment, amazing things will happen.”
A fascinating interview, and a must-read.