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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Cornell: Discounted Food Buying Programs for Food Insecure Households

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 11 percent of all U.S. households were food insecure in 2018, including 31 million adults and 6 million children. In these households, limited financial resources need to be allocated across competing priorities and food is often considered a less urgent concern relative to medical care and housing needs. Therefore, limited resources for food is associated with lower diet quality, a known risk factor for chronic disease.

Discounted food-buying (DFB) programs aim to enhance food security among low-income households through sales of aggregated food packages at substantially discounted cost. To better understand how low-income households decide whether to purchase DFB food packages, Ms. Krista Galie, from the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, and Dr. Karla Hanson, senior lecturer in the Cornell University Master of Public Health Program, conducted a survey of low-income consumers and analyzed sales data from a DFB program in New York State.

Respondents reported protein, vegetables, and fruit of highest importance, and were willing to pay more for protein. Unwanted items were the top reason for not purchasing a DFB package; they wanted more protein or dairy options, or requested packages tailored to vegetarians, vegans, or those with food allergies. In addition, DFB sales were lower after price increased, but sales were not associated with package abundance or discount rate.

DFB programs that prioritize fresh fruits and vegetables, include a greater variety of protein foods, and offer a consistently low price may simultaneously enhance sales, address food insecurity, and promote healthier eating.

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