“That’s pretty amazing,” Curtin says. “Internally, we thought we might lose half, and let’s put it this way, I would not have been surprised if we lost half” when D.C. Central Kitchen started charging full price.
Despite the healthy retention rate with retailers, Healthy Corners is a small program battling deeply entrenched eating habits. Many markets place orders so small — such as five apples, 10 potatoes or five white onions, etc., a week — that it would make traditional produce wholesalers laugh. But, as Curtin points out, those are not the numbers to focus on. The more important figures are the ones that show slow, gradual growth in sales at the majority of Healthy Corner stores.
“The sales numbers have gone up consistently every month. . . . That is, for me, the key piece: that we’re seeing this growth,” Curtin says. “People are becoming aware that they can get these kinds of products at their local stores, and they’re relying on it.”
Over at Marbury Market, Singleton talks glowingly of Healthy Corners while speaking honestly about the realities of his subterranean store. Yes, some customers have learned to buy an apple over, say, a bag of chips. And, yes, his orders have increased by more than 100 percent since last fall, to the point where Joelle Johnson, local initiatives and procurement coordinator for D.C. Central Kitchen, calls Marbury Market “one of our better stores.”
But Singleton isn’t about to turn his store into Whole Foods; his market’s biggest sellers, he says, remain candy and fruit-flavored cigarillos. “That’s the only fruit they’re consuming,” Singleton says with a resigned laugh.
Because efforts here and nationwide are still new, it remains to be seen whether creating access to healthier food will actually change people’s habits; some recent studies have suggested it won’t. But many see it as a step in the right direction.
Singleton says that while some customers may ignore the small stashes of produce and trail mix — not to mention the Healthy Corner signage that explains the caloric difference between a sticky bun and a banana — others have embraced Marbury’s fresh approach. Sometimes, they’re shoppers who previously avoided the market.
“Some refused to come here because we didn’t have anything nutritious. . . . The temptation was too great,” Singleton says. “These people have started to come down, which is great for us.”