Across the three major dollar store companies, there are a total of 30,000 dollar stores in the United States in 2019, up from 10,000 in 2009, CNN Business reported. These stores are effectively displacing and disincentivizing full-service grocery stores from opening in the rural, low-income communities where dollar stores thrive.
“The business model for these stores is built on saturation,” Julia McCarthy, senior policy associate at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, told CNN Business. “When you have so many dollar stores in one neighborhood, there’s no incentive for a full-service grocery store to come in.”
As a result, many community members are relying on dollar stores for their nutritional needs — despite the retailer’s inventory of sugary and fatty packaged foods and lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. To counter this, politicans have started taking matters into their own hands.
In July, the Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Alabama passed an amendment to prohibit further dollar store openings as part of an effort to prevent food deserts in parts of the city. The legislation demonstrates larger scale efforts to push back on the ubiquity of dollar stores.
“Healthy foods are the cornerstone of a healthy community,” Josh Carpenter, director of Birmingham’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, said in a statement. “What we are trying to do is show our community that healthy residents make healthy workers, which will lead to a healthier economy. Making sure that people have access to healthier foods is fundamental to our work in not only recruiting grocery stores but other businesses.”
The outcry comes after Dollar General announced a pilot program of DG Fresh in March 2019, an effort to shift to self-distribution of frozen and refrigerated goods. Though Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos said on a call with investors last week that the initiative will provide the company with increased autonomy around grocery, with the hopes of integrating fresh fruit and vegetable in the future, it doesn’t seem like its in the cards any time soon.
“DG Fresh will eventually allow us to control our own destiny on our assortment in these categories,” Vasos said on the call. “This could include a wider selection of both national and private brands as well as an enhanced offering for our better-for-you items. And while produce is not included in our initial rollout plans, we believe DG Fresh could provide the potential path forward to expanding our produce offerings to more stores in the future.”