Stockbox brings good food to where people live
A local startup business, Stockbox Grocers, aims to provide healthful food to communities that lack access to groceries. Their prototype — a 20-foot container box located at the edge of a Delridge apartment complex — closed Sunday after a two-month trial run.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The 20-foot shipping container at one edge of a Delridge apartment complex looks more like a portable moving box than a grocery store, but inside are hundreds of items — everything from peanut butter and pancake mix to milk and fresh fruit.
The repurposed container is the prototype for what two local business-school grads hope will be an answer to the national problem of "food deserts" — high-density, often low-income neighborhoods that lack access to healthful foods.
"We definitely want to prove this works in Seattle. So many communities have been asking for fresh produce and good food," said Carrie Ferrence, who, with Jacqueline Gjurgevich, opened this first Stockbox Grocers in September.
Sunday was the final day of a trial run for the new business, and many people from the neighborhood stopped by to pick up groceries and take advantage of marked-down prices.
Kids from one family picked out macaroni and cheese and tomato soup for lunch. Another family filled a shopping basket with almost a dozen items — from soy milk and frozen corn to bottled salad dressing and plastic wrap.
"I'm amazed at how much they fit in here. It's such a little tiny box," said Stacey Lopez, who was shopping with her children.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 23 million Americans live in places without access to healthful, affordable food. As part of a local effort to address that, Public Health — Seattle & King County, in partnership with the Seattle Office of Economic Development, has awarded about $1.1 million in federal grant money to help corner grocery stores add refrigeration units, fresh fruit and produce and to market the offerings to underserved communities.
"Minimarts and convenience stores traditionally haven't carried fresh fruit, vegetables and milk," said Dennis Worsham, regional health officer for the county health department.
"They typically have higher sales of liquor and tobacco," he said. "We're trying to get these stores to think about healthier foods for customers who don't have access to larger grocery stores."
Stockbox received a $20,000 grant from the program. The founders also won a $12,500 prize from a University of Washington Business Plan Competition last spring.
The owners chose the Delridge neighborhood because many residents there either have to drive several miles to a grocery or take two buses.
"We heard so many stories about people who take cabs to the grocery store or walk with their shopping carts," said Gjurgevich.
Tim Barker, a neighbor who stopped by Sunday with his wife, Naoko, and two kids, said he was expecting to "find what you'd find in a gas station."
Instead he said, "they have onions and broccoli, things I'd actually cook."
The owners have taken an expansive view of "healthful." They offer Jif peanut butter, whose second ingredient is sugar, and Mrs. Butterworth's syrup rather than genuine maple syrup because they said they wanted to stock food that people wanted to buy.
"We didn't want to be the judge and jury about what's healthy. Now that we know what can fit in a store, we can carry both Jif and Adams" peanut butter, said Gjurgevich.
The two have had requests from around the country to franchise the store. For now they plan to regroup, develop a business plan for slightly larger stores and open the first permanent one in April, in Delridge, Skyway or South Park. Their goal is to open three or four in those areas by the end of 2012.
"In our dreams, Stockbox could be everywhere. Every community could have healthy food," Gjurgevich said.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or email@example.com
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