MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Minneapolis' Healthy Foods Mandate Screws Over Ethnic Grocers

The city's Staple Food Ordinance mandates that stores carry products customers don't want.

Seventy/Dreamstime.comSeventy/Dreamstime.com

Minneapolis is putting to the test the notion that people don't eat healthy foods because businesses refuse to stock them. So far, it is failing.

In 2014, the city passed its Staple Food Ordinance which requires all grocery stores—barring a few exceptions—to keep on hand fresh produce, and other healthy foods they were not devoting enough shelf-space to.

The law went into effect in 2016, but two years on, the city is not seeing any discernable increase in the amount of healthy food people are buying. Instead, its healthy food mandate is leading to frustrated grocers and reports of food waste.

"If I could sell the oranges and the apples like the chips, I will take off the chips and sell the oranges," said one convenience store owner to the Minneapolis Star Tribune in an article published Monday, adding that he threw away more of the fresh fruit than he actually sold.

Starting in 2014, a team from the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health has been trying to tease out the effects of the ordinance by conducting surveys of what stores are selling and what customers are buying in Minneapolis and neighboring St. Paul (which has no such ordinance).

Dr. Melissa Laska, one of principles on the study, says there has been an increase in the availability of healthy foods in both of the Twin Cities. The fact that this change is occurring in both Minneapolis and St. Paul suggests that it is not the policy that is producing the results.

"If this was specifically due to the policy, classically we'd be able to say Minneapolis [stores] are increasingly getting healthier in their food offerings compared to St. Paul," Laska tells Reason. "That's not what we saw."

Laska's team also interviewed some 3,000 customers outside targeted stores to see if the staple food ordinance was actually encouraging people to buy healthier foods. So far, it has not.

"We did not see any significant changes in the healthfulness of customer purchasing. We can't point to customer purchasing and say purchases are getting healthier as a whole," says Laska.

As to reports of food waste, Laska says this is something they've heard from some managers they've interviewed for their study, but it was not a universal complaint.

Total compliance according to the study was also remarkably low. Only 10 percent of stores were in full compliance, although large majorities were stocking at least some of the items they were required too.

That low compliance rate can possibly be explained in part by just how minute the requirements of the ordinance are.

The law requires, for instance, not only that milk be carried, but that five gallons be on hand, and feature at least two non- or low-fat options. Milk items not in gallon or half gallon containers do not count toward this requirement, nor do flavored milks.

It's a similar story with eggs. Stores must keep six one-dozen containers on hand. Six-count or 18-count containers don't count toward this requirement. Nor do one-dozen containers if the eggs inside are medium or extra-large sized.

Stores have to stock approximately 13 cans of beans, but baked beans don't count toward this requirement, nor do cans that mix beans and meat, despite canned meat being another required ware.

The prescriptiveness of the ordinance rankles convenience store managers who often don't have much space to work with within their stores, says Lance Klatt, executive director of the Minnesota Service Station and Convenience Store Association.

"Some retail food owners don't have a huge footprint. It's harder to expand in that category," says Klatt, adding that "we understand you have to have healthy food offerings. We don't like them being mandated and being forced down our throats."

These rigid requirements are a particular cause of grief for the city's ethnic grocers who're forced to stock foods that their customers' native cuisines have little use for.

"The implementation of it was forcing all supermarkets to sell a certain diet that really only pertains to certain people in Minneapolis, particularly Caucasians," said Eric Fung, the owner of Asian grocery United Noodles, to the Minnesota Daily.

The mounting complaints are enough that the city is preparing to amend its Staple Food Ordinance to make it more flexible and more inclusive of ethnic food varieties. City officials are still not abandoning the idea of mandating healthy food in stores, however, preferring to see their current struggle as a careful balancing act.

"How do we meet the public purpose that we are trying to meet in the way that also meets our other public purposes, which are supporting our businesses, making sure we are not perpetuating institutional racism or cultural bias?" says Daniel Huff, the city's environmental health director to the Star Tribune.

Yet when when the explicit goal of legislation is to change people's preferences, it's almost inevitable that this will conflict with people's culturally-conditioned dietary preferences.

And even if the law is written in a way that is more ethnic-cuisine neutral, it will still bump up against the homegrown American preference for convenience stores stocked with more junk foods and fewer fresh veggies.

This is an inherent tension in a lot of public health legislation, and it continues to pop up in food fights across the country.

Sometimes public health officials will try to square this circle by claiming that this or that population is being "targeted" by greedy corporations who've manufactured an artificial demand for unhealthy products. This was the argument used by proponents of Seattle's soda tax, and for menthol cigarette bans across the country—including Minneapolis.

The example of Minneapolis suggests that this relationship works the other way, that businesses stock products based on what their customers want. Trying to change that with mandates has, at least in Minneapolis, produced few observable health gains, and a number of upset store managers.

Photo Credit: Seventy/Dreamstime.com

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • BYODB||


    The law went into effect in 2016, but two years on, the city is not seeing any discernable [sic] increase in the amount of healthy food people are buying. Instead, its healthy food mandate is leading to frustrated grocers and reports of food waste.


    Lessons learned from socialist states like Venezuela: Zero

  • Robert||

    "Public purpose", huh? Like, selling what the public wants to buy isn't their public purpose?

  • CDRSchafer||

    Seems to me what the progressives are selling the public isn't buying. At stores anyway. In elections, they'll vote for these idiots because they're Democrats.

  • Adans smith||

    Seems free trade is in trouble inside this country.

  • Longtobefree||

    For fairness, they should mandate that the city pass at least two ordinances increasing individual freedom for each one of these mandates.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I see your suggestion but up you one better!

    From the article... "...greedy corporations who've manufactured an artificial demand for unhealthy products."

    We provide a counter-balance to this artificialness that has been foisted upon us, and we create artificial people (robots) to artificially eat and artificially enjoy the healthy fruits and veggies, so that they will no longer go to waste!

  • JFree||

    Be careful what you wish for. This city council probably thinks they ARE increasing individual freedom - the freedom to buy lettuce in more convenience stores, etc.,

  • BigT||

    Maybe we should try this with the news organizations. They should be required to report farm supply prices, scores of slow pitch softball leagues, and the minutes of the PTA meetings - because it's good for you. And at least one piece praising the Administration very day.

    How do you feel about that?

  • Jerryskids||

    "If I could sell the oranges and the apples like the chips, I will take off the chips and sell the oranges,"

    Always with the profit motive, only selling the general public what they want rather than what they should and what they would want if only the general public weren't such a pack of brainless morons who don't even know what's for their own good and have to be told what to do by their moral and intellectual superiors in government. And you know the general public is a pack of brainless morons, look at the garbage they elect to be their moral and intellectual superiors. Funny how that works, you're a flock of sheep too stupid to be trusted to take care of yourself but you're wise enough to be trusted with the job of choosing your shepherd? I don't think so.

  • Rock Lobster||

    "If I could sell the oranges and the apples like the chips, I will take off the chips and sell the oranges."

    Fucking kulaks.

  • Peacedog||

    The public needs to actively identify and dox the hell out of people who create these kinds of regulations.

    The leftists on the courts created serial judicial fictions that provide civil immunity to these bums, so they act abusively as they "know" nothing will happen to them financially and that just encourages their behavior.

    So people are left with one choice, humiliate the hell out of them. Hound them in the public square and drive them out of public life. Especially, drive them off the public dime. As they are all really just high end welfare queens in the first place.

  • Hattori Hanzo||

    The people of Minneapolis can easily find out and likely know who passed this ordinance. Since this passed in '14 it's likely the same morons were elected again. Stupid law but it's hard to feel sorry for the people in Minneapolis. Just like the Soda Tax in Philadelphia the people get what they deserve when they elect and re-elect these asshats.

  • Peacedog||

    I don't care about the politicians involved. They are just parroting what their academic class overlords are pushing.

    I'm talking about the over-educated tax dollar welfare queens in academia. Those douchebags are the ground zero for this kind of b.s.

    And they need to be completely exposed, humiliated and hounded into obsolescence.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Dont worry, the Socialists running the government will mandate that people BUY the fruits next.

    All they needed to do was Socialism harder for it to work.

  • Drave Robber||

    Under socialism, people buy all the fruit available. There is no problem of too much fruit under socialism. Neither there is a problem of too much steak, too much toilet paper, too much almost anything. Except maybe poorly baked bread and canned fish.

  • Sevo||

    And shoes which don't fit anybody.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    BTW: Fuck all you Americans that vote Democrat. This is what Democrats do. Boss you around and take you money for government to waste.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Perspective, please. The important thing is that Michelle Obama can now finally be proud of her country.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Damn there's some ignorant politicians there/ To not consider available shelf space, to include only 12-count egg boxes and not 6-count (if 18-count were popular, they wouldn't need no stinking mandate!), to not count combined beans and meet and not count baked beans, and to not count flavored milk or quart or less sizes. Do they count refried beans?

    I can't imagine anyone who has shopped at corner stores thinking they have anywhere near the extra shelf space for all this, let alone the expensive refrigerated space. And do they think wholesalers are happy to deliver just a few items a day? That doesn't help keep the prices low enough to entice buyers.

    I expect politicians to be economically illiterate; there's enough economic ignorance among so-called libertarian commenters, and socialists just think you turn the printing presses up and soak the rich. But to not consider physical shelf space is a new one to me.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Yeah and all of that produce that ends up in the trash still has to be paid for. Shoppers that don't want to eat it end up paying for it anyway.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Scarcity, like supply and demand, is simply a myth. This applies to shelf space just like everything else.

  • Rat on a train||

    Mandating what stores must stock isn't working. Maybe they should mandate what shoppers purchase.

  • Ben_||

    Actually, they should. Ask shoppers leaving the stores if they support the ordinance and then fine them $50 if they say yes but didn't buy the mandated items.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Simpler yet, just forbid private stores and selfish self-shopping. Just have the government deliver the right stuff to your door and get rid of the pretense.

  • Rock Lobster||

    That has certainly worked for the health insurance market. Obamacare is a huge success story. Ask any Democrat.

  • No Longer Amused||

    1) Government has zero legitimate interest in what people eat

    2) Stores only stock what sells

    3) They should sue the government for lost revenue due to complying with the law (cost of buying, stocking, and throwing away mandated items, plus the income that would have normally been generated by using that shelf space for items that sell)

  • Agammamon||

    . . . we are not perpetuating institutional racism or cultural bias?"

    Would that not mean that they should be *suppressing* ethnic stores? To prevent the perpetuation of cultural bias? That all stores must have a representative sample of food supplies from all cultures?

  • Agammamon||

    Also , re: 6 count boxed - do these people know that people aren't going to *convenience stores* to do they normal grocery shopping but to fill immediate needs. So someone might need a couple eggs - a poor someone - and now you're forcing them to spend their hard-earned money on buying a dozen eggs at jacked up prices instead of getting what they need now and buying eggs on the normal grocery trip.

  • Agammamon||

    And, finally - none of the people who are grocery shopping at convenience stores are doing it because there are no other options. Its because they're lazy.

    I ran a store where the options for most of our customers was walk across the street to my store or walk a whole 1/8th a mile to a full service grocery store that sold all the groceries we did and at lower prices. But they weren't paying for the shit so they didn't care.

  • Arcxjo||

    I can never remember if eggs are healthy this week or a death trap. Or if it's just the whites that are okay, or just the yolks. Or whole eggs in dozen-increments, but not 2 half-dozens.

  • THCorCBDthatistheQuestion||

    Death trap. Very death trap.

  • Benitacanova||

    Blue state. So very blue.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The whole 'food deserts' meme was nonsense from day one, and the people who spread it need to be belabored about the head with golf clubs.

  • Here for the outrage||

    those people get a pass from Reason because they also love open borders and give zero fucks about the people who pay for leftist nonsense

  • cc2||

    The targeting argument is the same as saying minorities are easily manipulated and are too stupid to eat well. Who's the racist again? Same story with mandates about kid's meals, having to stock fresh food in tiny groceries, etc. If there is a market for the food then someone will provide it. It did not require a mandate for my local grocer to stock specialty foods for diabetics, halal, kosher, salt-free, gluten-free. Get the gov out of the way.

  • Bessie||

    Why not just issue 3 approved meals a day to eligible families?

  • Seamus||

    What's this "eligible families " stuff, comrade? Decent, healthy meals should be issued to *everyone*. I mean, you qouldn't limit public education to "eligible" families, would you? No, the government should provide a basic sustenance for all, and (at least for the moment), we'll permit those who have already paid taxes providing for all to supplement their consumption with luxury foods. Really rich people may (for now) be allowed to pay for private grocery stores on top of what they already pay in taxes for food for all.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Don't be afraid to take the next step, either.

    "You will eat your beets, citizen. Stop resisting!" BLAM! BLAM!

    It's for the children.

  • Flinch||

    This is where licensing goes at some point unfortunately: a merchant becomes a "partner" to the city, and after a few seasons of subservience, government reaches a comfort level to dictate all kinds of things that extend far outside consumer "protections". Sounds like Minneapolis officials have identified themselves to the federal government as a business partner by hijacking the list of persons controlling a business per their EIN.

  • kevinq||

    America; Land of the free*

    *Some restrictions may apply
    *License or permit may be required
    *Subject to change without notice

  • Seamus||

    Why are privately owned grocery stores allowed at all? Food is a human right. No one should be allowed to profit from others' hunger. Private grocery stores are as morally offensive as for-profit hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Alexandria [O-C]? Must say I'm surprised to see you here, but them you've clearly come to preach to us naysayers about your brand of government beneficence.

  • Rock Lobster||

    And video games. And iPhones. And premium porn.

    Man cannot live by bread alone.

  • Seamus||

    All this whining from you libertarians. Next thing, you'll be telling us that health insurers shouldn't be required to include coverage for abortifacients in every basic policy.

  • Agammamon||

    Of course not. How else are we to maintain a supply of cheap orphan labor?

  • CDRSchafer||

    If progressives eat so healthy why are they so fucking stupid? Is it cause and effect?

  • Agammamon||

    Soooooo . . . that Fallout76, eh?

    On top of the issues at launch, the core design problems - they discount the game less than a week after release.

    Keep in mind that if you pre-ordered? Yeah, you paid full price. If you trusted the company to not bone you, they bone you - and then they pull their pants up and spit on you.

    But - just another fact to add to the 'never fucking pre-order anything, ever, especially software' stance.

  • GPlumb||

    "The example of Minneapolis suggests that this relationship works the other way, that businesses stock products based on what their customers want." This is it exactly. I run the IT department for a small grocery store chain, and at the end of each quarter we run the numbers on what sells and what doesn't. If it doesn't sell, it gets dropped out of inventory. It's dead money tied up sitting on the shelf. Government probably means well, but they have just clueless.

  • GPlumb||

    I can't find a way to edit my post. I guess I just must have clueless...

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online