A House committee approved legislation to create a task force to examine the problem of healthy food access in both rural and urban communities with challenges for grocery retailers.
House Bill 2650, by Rep. Seneca Scott, creates the Task Force on Grocery Store Access. It was approved by a unanimous, bipartisan vote in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
Scott said that both urban neighborhoods and rural communities face challenges in attracting and retaining grocery stores. In urban areas, the challenges include constraints on physical space, urban design requirements and resident expectations of both the look and options available at the store. Both types of communities must have a grocery store that is more custom-tailored to their customer base.
“Large grocery chains look for traffic patterns that bring a large customer base to their door,” said Scott, R-Tulsa. “Those grocery chains that have begun to emerge in urban areas tend to be a bit smaller and more specialized in what they offer to customers. Although those stores have not emerged as frequently in rural areas, it really is the same model that can work there. So the question becomes, how do we entice them? That’s the problem the task force will work to solve.”
Scott noted the recent closing of Wal-Mart locations in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
“Wal-Marts are the right fit for some communities, but increasingly the right fit is going to be smaller grocery stores with a bit of a health focus or other focus that draws a certain kind of customer,” Scott said. “I know in Tulsa, millennials are moving back into urban areas and creating a demand for urban grocery stores. I think this task force will help come up with the policy ideas needed to help shape that change.”