Friday, December 2, 2011

Food Stamps at Restaurants – Why not

SNAP Recipients deserve full range of Alternative and Affordable Meals Solution
SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education) is a federal/state partnership that supports nutrition education for persons eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Food Stamp Program - Subsidizing the Retail Grocery Industry at the expense of Quick Service Restaurants
We think Food Stamp Recipients deserve the full range of Alternative and Affordable Meal Solutions. Food Stamps, or now more commonly called EBT1 cards (Electronic Benefits Transfer) shoud be accepted at Fast Food (QSR) restaurants.
Yum Brands2 did the right thing requesting permission to accept food stamps at fast food…its restaurants in Kentucky. Our question is: why not in every state?
The reported US unemployment rate is hovering at 9.2%, but we all know that combined with the underemployed and those not even looking any longer the unemployment rate is much closer to 20%. It's clear a large portion of America is going without. Unemployment numbers are disproportionately high for those under 24 and over 55 increasing anxiety while creating a climate of disorder in the workforce.
The NPD Group3 reports that" the number of annual restaurant visits by an average Millennial consumer (age 16 to 30) has dropped from 245 visits five years ago to 192 this year -- approximately one fewer visit each week. Additionally, a National Restaurant Association survey4 found that in July, restaurant performance dropped to its lowest level in almost a year, and restaurant owners predicted their worst overall performance expectations in 20 months. This gets more complicated as fast food blurs the lines between a meal and a snack5 .
Subsidized in part with food stamp programs Conveniences stores, Chain Drug Stores, Grocery Stores and now Walmart Express6 are increasing fresh food sales and garnering ready-2-eat market share.
Why Are the Food Police ignoring 45 Million People's Needs?
QSR's, Fast Casual, Casual Dining7 and all other restaurant formats as well as deli's should be able to accept food stamps. Why?
Recession, stagnation or double dip… 45 million plus Americans are currently receiving assistance from the Food and Nutrition Service8 division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the USDA SNAP), which oversees the food stamp program. Like most legacy government programs it's time to update this program ensuring participant parity and contemporized consumer relevance.
Outdated Food Stamp Program - Affects Real People and Has Real Impacts
Real Solutions Required for USDA SNAP
Here are two examples of real people that come from our proprietary research conducted in August 2011 that demonstrate the problem.
Aaron - 25 Year Old Male Army Veteran - Tucson Arizona
He has recently left the military and rents a room in a house for $450 per month. He attends a local community college, works two jobs. His first job is at McDonalds, four days a week from 5:30AM until 9:30 getting $7.85 per hour, accepts all additional shifts offered. Aaron's second job is at Bashes grocery store as a produce shelf stocker from 10AM to 4PM two to three days per week. After rent, toothpaste, laundry soap, uniform shoes and without health insurance Aaron would not eat unless he had food stamp eligibility9.
McDonalds offers him a meal at 50% off for employees but his cash is used for housing and simply the basics. Aaron says, "A single person cannot cook a burger as cheaply as I purchase McDonalds or Taco Bell." Aaron is not looking for a hand out; he is looking at the system and asking for a hand up.
Louise, 60 year old female from Tacoma, Washington has an even sadder story…
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Louise - 60 year old female - Tacoma, Washington
She works 2 jobs, has serious arthritis and resides with one autistic son at home. As a hairdresser, she is on 100% commission and has worked in this profession for 30 years. Since 2008, when the economy went south, her business declined. She also works nights at a local casino restaurant at $9:75 per hour to supplement her income and health insurance. She works over 80 hours a week with just one day off!
Louise says, "When the slump started, business has dropped off about 45% and I simply could no long pay the bills. My clients are still there but no longer can they afford a perm or color. They come in now for a haircut, style and not as often as they did in the past". When you're the sole provider you must do whatever it takes to get by." When all is said and done she brings home $575.00 per month on average . "With a $25.00 co-pay health insurance each visit to the doctor is now simply to expensive but we both have to go". She applied for food stamps in order to eat.
The Food Police - Listen To Louise
Louise wants to know why she can't but a rotisserie chicken from the deli occasionally to make her life on her one day off easier. She continued "these are hard times and when you can't be home to cook it would be very nice to buy a quick meal at Taco Bell or KFC." Louise is not gaming the system - she works hard six days a week… four of those days 16+ hours per day.
Food Police Elitist Attitudes
It's August… Louise on only day off is talking to us with a small fan blowing around the mid-summer hot air. She has no air conditioning. When asked she said we can't afford it.
While the food police ride an air conditioned elevator to the upper floor of their office that is a comfortable 72 air conditioned degrees and after a simple 8 hour day and 40 hour week sit in an easy chair watching sports on TV in an air conditioned room.
Consumers Today Cook With Meal Components
Over the past 20 years there has been a transition in home cooking where the vast majority of meals are not cooked from scratch but assembled meal components1 . Components like rotisserie chicken2, fresh vegetables, ribs, soups, take-N-bake pizza, casseroles, Chinese entrees, and kids meals can be bought from QSR's, restaurants and from the prepared food sections at supermarkets and delis. Still not convinced? Just look at the vast selection of meal components from the East Coast chain Wegman's in their Market Café section3.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has long understood that diet composition is not the issue for a homeless family facing starvation. While subsidizing a consumers food consumption carries with it responsibility and intent for a healthy nutritious diet, it's important that programs adapt with the time and consumer need set.
Do any of us have the same lifestyle today vs. our parents and grandparents? It's critically important to understand the new normal of family meal preparation and adjust programs to fit the need.
It's 4pm and QSR's know where their customers are4 . It's time to let restaurants and all food retailers accept food stamps for ready-2-eat and heat-N-eat5 fresh prepared food. We ask for your collaboration for this ongoing initiative.
Foodservice Solutions Advocacy is a special vehicle driven communications and lobbying venture designed to work creative solutions quickly. Email:

Steven Johnson has been a restaurant franchisee and concept developer, is globally recognized for his blog " The Grocerant6." He runs Foodservice Solutions® has offices in California and Washington and is a foodservice consultancy specializing in outsourced vertical retail food sector strategy - marketing strategy and business development, identifying, quantifying and qualifying niche opportunity for global foodservice related activity since 1991.

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