Rewrite on variety definition will make it easier for small format retailers to participate in SNAP.
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has rewritten its proposed definition of “variety” for retailer eligibility in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which provides food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people in the U.S.
“We are pleased to see that FNS heeded the calls of Congress to rewrite their definition of ‘variety” in a way that will provide more flexibility for the more than 119,000 convenience stores in the program who provide needed access to food in areas where there is not a large store nearby or during non-traditional hours when most of those stores are closed,” said Anna Ready, director of government relations at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), in a statement.
Under the final regulations for SNAP, retailers must offer seven varieties of food in the four staple food groups, which are vegetables or fruits; dairy products; meat, poultry, or fish; breads or cereals.
“When the final regulations for stocking requirements were finalized in 2016 there was still an issue with how ‘variety’ of food was determined — it was going to be extremely difficult for small format chains like convenience stores to meet those requirements as defined because they would not count more than one kind of product in a segment toward a requirement,” Ready told CSD.
For example, under the previous definition, if a c-store offered both turkey chili and turkey slices, those two different products would only count as one variety requirement for the meat staple group — not two. Or, in the dairy group — if c-stores sold whole milk and skim milk, those two products only counted as meeting one variety requirement, making it hard for small stores to reach seven varieties.
“So this was a proposed rule that was supposed to expand to make our requirements to participate in the program as small format retailers more flexible,” Ready explained.
Given the rewrite on the definition of variety, now for example, skim milk and whole milk can count as two variety requirements instead of one.
“Convenience stores and other neighborhood stores face storage and size constraints, as well as delivery limitations, which would have made FNS’s original definition of variety almost impossible to comply with even for the most sophisticated retail operations. As Congress intended, the proposed definition of ‘variety’ will provide retailers with greater flexibility to reach eligibility requirements without making retailers stock items that simply do not sell in their stores or that they do not have the space or capacity to sell,” Ready said.
“We appreciate the bipartisan efforts of members of Congress who directed FNS to rewrite their definition of ‘variety’ in way that matched the intent of Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill to preserve the role of the small format retailer and increase foods stocked inside the store,” she added.
NACS intends to file comments on the proposal and work with FNS to ensure the final rule provides the greatest possible flexibility for SNAP retail partners.
“While we’re still in the process of reviewing the new, proposed definition, we are encouraged that it’s moving in the right direction,” she said.