A Community Food Market Where Dignity is at the Center

Aug 25, 2015, 2:46 PM, Posted by

The Daily Table’s model simultaneously addresses food insecurity and promotes health in a respectful, dignified manner for all customers who walk through their doors. Here's how.

Little girl shopping for fresh produce. Image via The Daily Table

When we opened the first Daily Table grocery store in Dorchester, Massachusetts this past June, I was eager for early customer feedback. I’ll never forget one of the responses we got:

I was able to check out your new store today and was very impressed. It was also the first time in a while that I didn't feel like crying at a grocery store.  Money is always tight and with kids I often have to settle for some not so healthy choices just because that's all I can afford right now. I just wanted to thank you and let you know that you are already making a huge difference for families!”

Nobody should face tears at the grocery store. Unfortunately, it happens more often than you might imagine, especially when single moms and low-income shoppers confront the daunting task of buying nutritious food to feed themselves and their families. That’s why I started Daily Table as a nonprofit community food market―to sell delicious, wholesome food at very affordable prices.

Daily Table is a store with a mission, designed to reach individuals who struggle to eat well, many of whom also face health issues that stem from a poor diet.  Responding to the sad truth that nutrients are expensive and calories are cheap, Daily Table believes that the solution to hunger and obesity in America is not just a full stomach, but a healthy, affordable meal. In short, it is a health care initiative disguised as a grocery store.

We sell fresh produce and groceries, as well as prepared meals that are cooked on-site in a professional kitchen every day. We believe that the food we eat with our families plays a big role in our well-being so we make sure that everything we offer has our customers’ health (and wallets) in mind. Every food in the store meets nutritional guidelines for salt, sugar and fiber, and can be purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. Because customers get to come in and choose what they want in a normal shopping environment, it supports dignity and increases the likelihood it will be consumed.

A unique sourcing strategy also distinguishes Daily Table from the average neighborhood food market. While one in six Americans is food insecure, up to 40 percent of the food produced in this country is wasted: tilled back into the soil at farms, left in dumpsters behind supermarkets, and thrown into wastebaskets in our homes. Daily Table relies on manufacturers, growers and supermarkets to donate their perfectly edible, excess food as a primary source of our food supply. In this way, Daily Table can keep its prices so low that they are comparable to traditional fast-food alternatives in the neighborhood.

As a retail store, Daily Table’s flagship location is anchored in the Dorchester community outside of Boston. It has created about 30 new jobs, with 75 percent of the store’s retail and kitchen hires living within a two-mile radius of the store. The retail space is bright, clean, and inviting, and the store team treats customers with respect and warmth, creating a welcome and enjoyable shopping experience for all.

Unlike most nonprofits, Daily Table’s retail-based approach to its mission aims to be financially self-sustaining. While many generous foundations and individuals (including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) provided funds to cover the costs of renovating our store and to support us through an initial growth phase, our goal is for the revenue from our food sales to cover the cost of operating the business. Being in this start-up phase is not easy. Right now, our chief priorities are to build a steady supply of donated food with more variety for our customers, and spread the word to increase the number of shoppers.

Daily Table’s model simultaneously addresses food insecurity and health in a respectful, dignified manner for our customers. It also presents a unique, market-based solution to the problem of wasted food. We’re confident that this combination will help the communities we open in build a Culture of Health, and give us a solid foundation to expand into other markets. Beyond our pilot location in Dorchester, plans are to expand first to other sites in Boston and then to more cities in the US. After all, the need for affordable, delicious, convenient and wholesome food is everywhere—and shoppers shouldn’t have to cry in grocery stores, unless they’re tears of joy.