Feeding the Soul: The Grocer Tackling Philadelphia’s Food Deserts

When fourth generation grocer and YPO member Jeffrey Brown opened his first store in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood with a history of gun violence in 2004 and hired several returning offenders to work in it, most people thought he was crazy.

Fifteen years later, he is CEO and President of Browns Super Stores, one of the 50 largest US grocery chains with sales of around $ 500 million. Of its 12 stores, six are successful desert grocery stores in neighborhoods that previously had no access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other whole foods.

Food deserts affect 25 million Americans in 6,500 urban and rural areas. The lack of access to affordable healthy foods contributes to high levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Brown is changing that.

Other grocers had tried but quickly failed where his businesses thrive. Brown credits his success with listening to the community before building. In addition to beautifully designed stores and affordable fresh food, he brings jobs, community service, health care, nutritionists, and social workers into his stores.

“My father showed me that there are business opportunities in disadvantaged communities and the importance of learning about their food cultures,” explains Brown. “The more I learned, the more concerned I became about the incredible challenges our customers face because of the zip codes they were born into. I wanted to find a way to change that. “

The first FoodRite ShopRite, operated by Brown’s Super Stores, replaced a store that sold $ 100,000 to $ 150,000 a week. “We opened for $ 700,000 in the first week,” he says. “This has attracted the attention of officials willing to help us continue this work.”

Before opening his first store in the southwest Philadelphia borough, Brown held several town halls that attracted nearly 1,000 people. He wanted to learn about the background of the community, religion, family origins and what a grocery store wanted. Before his North Philadelphia store opened, more than 3,000 people attended the meeting.

As he delved further into the region’s cultures and religions, he brought in more culturally relevant products, according to Brown. “We have added a department that deals with halal food. People from Africa wanted a flour called fufu; People from the south missed sweet potato pie. We make the cakes in our kitchen and carry the various products from the diverse heritage of our customers. “

“The role of our fathers and mothers in solving social problems has been to make lots of money and, when they’re near death, give something to a nonprofit,” explains Brown. “This model is unlikely to lead society to positive change.”

Instead, entrepreneurs should ask, “How can I use my problem-solving skills to address the many challenges facing society? You show your team how to make more than just money. This enhancement of the model, often referred to as social entrepreneurship, is a promising way to address society’s most pressing challenges, such as poverty. “N

Mary Sigmond is the editor-in-chief of YPOs Ignite digital magazine. YPO is the global leadership community of more than 29,000 leaders in 130 countries driven by the belief that the world needs better leaders.

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