Using Mobile Fruit Vendors to Increase Access to Fresh Fruit and Vegetable for Schoolchildren

In a short pilot, a vendor selling snack bags of cut-up fresh fruits and vegetables outside an elementary school sold an increasing number of these snacks over time, while the number of area vendors selling less nutritious snacks decreased.

Mobile fruit vendors, or fruteros, are often found in Hispanic and African American city neighborhoods where access to fresh food is limited. This pilot intervention placed a single, sanctioned frutero directly outside of one Oakland, California elementary school (279 students) at dismissal time for 14 days in fall 2008. The frutero stayed each day until sales dwindled. Researchers observed sales at the frutero, as well as the presence of area vendors who sold less nutritious snacks, such as ice cream and cotton candy. Only the frutero was allowed to sell near the school. Neither teachers nor the school promoted the frutero among the children.

Key Findings:

  • Over the entire 14 days, the frutero sold a daily average of 17.7 bags of fruits and vegetables but, during the last five days, at least 20 bags were sold daily.
  • Analysis reveals that the frutero sold one additional snack bag each successive day, while competing vendors sold 1.5 fewer nonnutritious snacks on each successive day.
  • By the end of the period, there were fewer vendors of nonnutritious snacks present, possibly because the frutero provided competition, or possibly because they did not like being observed by researchers.
  • Fifty-nine percent of the frutero’s customers were elementary school students. No adults were present for 27 percent of the frutero’s transactions.

This brief intervention shows the feasibility of having a sanctioned frutero sell fruits and vegetables as snacks after school, and suggests the presence of such a vendor may decrease sales of vendors who sell less nutritious snacks. More study is needed to determine whether kids are substituting nutritious snacks for less nutritious alternatives, and the impact of a frutero on overall consumption by schoolchildren.