Council should support healthy bodega campaign


Too often, Bronx bodegas are seen as “a source of the problem” because they sell unhealthy snack foods, sandwiches, soda, alcohol and tobacco products. But 54 Bronx bodegas are changing that unhealthy perception as partner bodegas in the “Healthy Bodega” program.

Over the past four years, the Bodega Association of the United States, the Institute for Family Health’s 80-plus member Bronx Health Reach Coalition and the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network have offered bodega owners a series of trainings and workshops focused on procuring, selling and marketing healthier food and beverage options in bodegas as a profitable venture.

“Selling healthy food helps our community,” said Frank Marte, owner of Green Earth Grocery Store on the Grand Concourse and 171st Street. “Our customers want to eat healthier because they are seeing the harmful effects of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.”

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings Report, the Bronx has been ranked 62 out of the state’s 62 counties in health outcomes over the past nine years. Access to fresh, affordable, healthy food and beverages is a major barrier to living a healthy lifestyle in the borough.

According to the city’s health and mental hygiene department’s community health survey, 32 percent of residents are obese, 36 percent have hypertension, 16 percent have diabetes, and almost 18 percent had no servings of fruits or vegetables the previous day. The Healthy Bodega program is one way to improve the health of Bronx residents.

The 54 stores that have agreed to sell healthier foods and beverages sell fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy sandwiches, low-fat dairy products, water, and low-sodium products. However, the bodegueros can only continue to sell these items if people buy them. They are businesses, after all, and need to make a profit.

To encourage more customers to buy healthy foods and beverages, Bronx Health Reach collaborated with the Bronx Bodega Partners Workgroup to create the “Don’t Stress, Eat Fresh” Bronx bodega marketing campaign. Workgroup members include Montefiore Medical Center’s Office of Community and Population Health, BronxWorks, Bronx Community Health Network, the American Dairy Association North East, WellCare Health Plans, Urban Health Plan, City Harvest, the city’s health and mental hygiene department’s Bronx Neighborhood Health Action Center, and BronxCare Health System.

The design and messaging of the campaign was informed by discussions with youth from BronxWorks and the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, youth and adults from the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp., and bodega owners from the Bodega Association.

Between last October and last January, we piloted the campaign in select neighborhoods in the Bronx with signage in English and Spanish. Advertising was placed on four bus shelters, on the tail lights and interiors of Bronx MTA buses, two urban panels (signs above ground subway entrances) on the Grand Concourse, and on 28 LinkNYC screens.

Mobile ads were also placed to promote 15 partner bodegas.

According to our media distribution partners, the ads were viewed more than 15 million times by Bronx residents over the course of the campaign.

In addition, posters, shelf and door signs were put up in participating bodegas, and posters were distributed to neighboring businesses located near the bodegas.

We would like to put this campaign in neighborhoods across the Bronx, and to do this, we have requested funding from our Bronx city council members.

We believe that with more consumer awareness, there will be greater demand for our partner bodegas to carry healthy foods.

Ruddock is the director of Bronx Health Reach, while Castillo represents members of the Bodega Association of the United States, which also includes David Diaz, Frank Marte and Renata Marte.