COVID-19 Spotlights Food Inequity

PHA partners chart a path forward with programs to address hunger and access to fresh produce.  

May 01, 2020

WASHINGTON—The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) held its first virtual summit on April 28 to celebrate a decade of enabling Americans to lead healthier lives. NACS has been a PHA partner since 2017, becoming the first retail association to make a commitment with PHA, and in 2019, NACS was named the PHA Partner of the Year.

Former First Lady and Honorary PHA Chair Michelle Obama, opened the virtual event by reflecting on 10 years of success, learnings and greater awareness, partnerships and resources around healthier eating. “We needed leadership not just from each other, but from the private sector,” she said.

“Today, a decade later, thanks to our partners, our advocates and our champions, we can see what that movement looks like in real concrete terms. Together, we’ve removed seven trillion calories from the food supply, and we’ve increased access to healthier foods for more than 8.5 million people across this country. We’ve added healthier foods at more than 2,500 convenience stores nationwide,” said Obama.

Among those 2,500-plus convenience stores are retailers that have made unique PHA commitments to deliver healthier option to their customers and communities: Kwik Trip, Sheetz, Maverik, Cumberland Farms, Enmarket, Loop, Aloha Petroleum, Riker’s and Twice Daily. There are also six industry distributors that have made PHA commitments: Core-Mark, Esstar, Harold Levinson Associates, Harbor Wholesale Foods, McLane and S. Abraham & Sons.

Keynote speaker Ethan Brown, founder and CEO, Beyond Meat, shared with the virtual audience how the rise of plant-based foods is largely in response to four emerging global issues: human health, climate change, sustainability and animal welfare.

In recent years, many convenience retailers, restaurants and QSRs have added plant-based proteins to their menus as another option for customers looking to make healthier choices by reducing their overall meat consumption. (See the NACS Magazine feature, “Meat Your Plant-Based Burger.”)

Brown addressed the price point of Beyond Meat products, noting the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed inequity around the nation’s food supply. He agreed that his company needs to get to a price point below animal protein and hopes to do so through scale and supply-chain improvements. A 2019 Washington Post article noted that a Bank of America analysis found that the average retail price for Beyond Meat burgers is $12 per pound, compared to $4 per pound for regular beef patties, but added that this gap will narrow as Beyond Meat “grows economies of scale to provide new efficiencies.”

NBA all-star Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder shared his plant-based diet journey, admitting that the transition was not that simple, mainly because he had to de-program a lifetime of behaviors around food. His transformation began by eating Beyond Meat products after games and noticing a difference in his energy level, including less fatigue, inflammation and muscle soreness. Paul and a group of other NBA stars are investors in Beyond Meat.

Wrapping up the virtual summit, PHA announced two new efforts to help transform the food landscape in pursuit of health equity. First, the COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund will use fruits and vegetables to uplift health for individuals in need during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, while also creating economic opportunity and reducing food waste. The goal is to deliver fresh produce to communities in need, paired with digital and other resources to help families integrate fruits and vegetables into their diets and lives for the long-term.

PHA is partnering with the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) to deliver thousands of servings of fresh produce that would have otherwise been wasted to individuals in need. This effort would complement the USDA’s recent investment in surplus perishable foods and is designed to increase the likelihood that individuals will adopt healthy eating patterns.

“Filling people’s bodies with nourishing food and strengthening their immune systems is always important, especially now,” said Cathy Burns, CEO of PMA.

And second, PHA announced the launch of Shaping Early Palates, an effort to raise the visibility of early palate development through industry agreements that advance the availability and accessibility of veggie-forward baby and toddler foods in the marketplace.