On May 31, 2023, a delegation from the Campaign for Healthier Solutions once again attended the Dollar General annual shareholder meeting in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. As shareholders, we urged the corporation to phase out toxic chemicals from its consumer products and move forward with sourcing nutritious, locally grown food to protect the health of its customers, workers, and the communities where Dollar General operates.
Dollar General’s practices have an immense impact on communities across the country, especially communities of color and low-income communities where discount retail chains are often the only place to shop for food and other essential goods. As of February 2023, Dollar General has more than 19,000 stores. The company operates more retail stores than any other company in the United States, and more than 75 percent of people in this country live within five miles of a Dollar General.
Across the country, many Black, Latina(o), and Indigenous communities and low-income neighborhoods experience insufficient access to affordable, healthy, and culturally relevant foods. In 2021, nearly 34 million people in the United States lived in food insecure households, meaning that financial constraints made them uncertain of having or unable to acquire enough food to meet the nutritional needs of everyone in the household.
The connection between food insecurity and dollar stores is clear. Many chains operate intentionally in food-deprived areas, like communities of color, rural communities, and low-income communities. Nearly half of dollar store sales come from customers who rely on public assistance programs and the sale of food at dollar stores is growing rapidly, particularly in low-income and rural communities. From 2008 to 2020, dollar stores increased their share of retail food purchases by nearly 90 percent, and by more than 100 percent in rural areas. Unfortunately, most of the food available at these discount retail chains is highly processed with low nutritional quality and creates additional health concerns because of toxic chemicals in food packaging.
Community-Designed Solutions for Affordable, Local Food
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions, a project of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform and Coming Clean to push for safe, nontoxic products in the country’s largest dollar store chains, has long recognized the outsized role that discount retailers play in providing essentials for low-income communities across the United States. These corporations have the power to determine the source, quality, and type of products available to those communities, and as a result, can make choices to support health, equity, and well-being.
The Local Food Solutions project follows years of advocacy by the Campaign for Healthier Solutions to remove toxic products from stores, especially items made for children. These efforts align directly with the Louisville Charter for Safer Chemicals, a nearly twenty-year process to achieve principled alignment on a policy platform that is endorsed by more than 120 organizations representing environmental justice and grassroots communities, environmental and health nonprofits, and leaders in the medical, public health, business, and science communities.
Since 2019, the Local Food Solutions project has been asking Dollar General to offer healthy, local food options in its stores, starting with four stores in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The South Valley of Albuquerque is the base of operations for the Agri-Cultura Network, a community-based and farmer-led cooperative that works to provide access to local and sustainably grown produce and spur local economic development. Agri-Cultura Network and its network of more than 70 farms and ranches use traditional and innovative agricultural practices to improve environmental and community stewardship and strengthen the agrarian and cultural heritage of their land and its residents.
Local Food Solutions is offering a path forward for Dollar General to provide highly desirable, local food to its customers, and in doing so, reinvest in the communities where its stores operate.
At the 2019 shareholder meeting, the Local Food Solutions project secured a commitment from Dollar General’s then-Chief Executive Officer Todd Vasos to send representatives to Albuquerque to meet with Agri-Cultura Network and see its operations capacity at the South Valley Economic Development Center firsthand. Dollar General executives made that trip in November 2019, visiting with Albuquerque farmers, community members, healthcare leaders, and elected officials. After that meeting, Dollar General expressed interest in continuing the conversation with Agri-Cultura Network, especially for shelf-stable, value-added products like salsa made from locally grown produce.
Despite the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, including limited staffing and social distancing requirements, Agri-Cultura Network has made huge strides in the last few years to meet the sourcing needs of a large retailer like Dollar General. Agri-Cultura Network has become GAP certified (a rigorous federal food safety certification), developed and tested recipes for value-added products like salsa, jam, fruit chips, and a baby food line that could be sold by Dollar General, conducted thorough crop planning with its network of farmers, began production and packaging of those value-added product lines, invested in expanded production and packaging capacity, and explored produce prescriptions and other incentive programs to help ensure these products remain affordable for Dollar General’s customers.
With this forward momentum, the Local Food Solutions project returned to Dollar General’s 2023 annual shareholder meeting to press the company to continue conversations about sourcing local foods in New Mexico. As shareholders we asked new Dollar General Chief Executive Officer Jeff Owen how he planned to move forward with previous commitments to explore purchasing local foods from Agri-Cultura Network. Following the formal meeting, in conversation with other top Dollar General executives, we requested that the corporation make a public commitment to continuing the conversation with Agri-Cultura Network around local purchasing. Additionally, shareholders in our coalition were proud to vote in support of an important and successful shareholder resolution requiring the company to conduct an independent worker safety and well-being audit, in solidarity with Step Up Louisiana and other supporters and proponents of this resolution. Toxic chemicals exposure is also an important worker safety issue, as detailed in a recent Ecology Center report on hormone-disrupting chemicals in receipt paper.
Although not a complete remedy for the systemic and disproportionate environmental burdens borne by people of color, rural communities, and low-income neighborhoods around the country, consistent access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food can play an important role in improving community health outcomes and helping prevent disease. A strong partnership between Dollar General and Agri-Cultura Network would mean more locally grown food and produce for Albuquerque residents, more money staying in the local economy to support sustainable farmers, and better business for Dollar General. The Campaign for Healthier Solutions and Local Food Solutions project look forward to continued conversation and progress with Dollar General to eliminate toxic products and stock healthy, locally grown food in its stores.
This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.