Increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefits Transfer Sales at Farmers' Markets with Vendor-Operated Wireless Point-of-Sale Terminals

When every vendor at a farmers market was provided with an individual terminal to process “food stamp”-funded purchases electronically, sales increased significantly during the busiest season. But, without subsidy, terminal costs are prohibitive for vendors, according to this study.

Many recipients of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) live in neighborhoods with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Policy-makers have promoted the creation of farmers markets in these areas but recipients and vendors must be able to trade SNAP benefits easily for purchases. Most farmers' markets have just one central terminal where SNAP benefits can be used. This study examined whether installing multiple terminals would raise sales. The analysis is based on a pilot program at a single farmers' market in which all 21 vendors were provided individual wireless terminals to process SNAP purchases for nine months (June 2008 through February 2009). Total sales were tracked for 48 months, from January 2007 through December 2010.

Key Findings:

  • The pilot program was associated with a sales increase of 38 percent.
  • The growth in sales was largely due to increases during the busiest Fall season, even after adjustment for expected seasonal variation.
  • The sales bump did not persist when the additional terminals were removed.
  • The sales increase did not offset the high costs of terminals; vendors did not plan to retain the terminals.

This study is limited: it examined only one market; non-electronic sales data at farmers' markets is unreliable; and promotion of the pilot program generally raised awareness of the market. But the authors note that SNAP-accepting terminals are already subsidized at supermarkets. They suggest considering the use of subsidies to increase the number of terminals at farmers' markets, especially as technology improves.