Some months back, Regulatory Services staff noticed an interesting, odd lack in the ordinances regulating grocery stores in Minneapolis: they don't require the store to sell any food. This came about as part of the Grocery Store Task Force that my Northside colleague Don Samuels has been working on, mostly as a response to some problematic corner "grocery stores" in his Ward.
When staff first came to the Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee, however, their recommendation left something to be desired. They recommended that the Council add the following requirement to the ordinance regulating grocery stores: "All grocery stores shall stock, and have available for sale, a variety of non-expired staple food items." This did not include a definition of "staple" food items. In committee, I asked what this would entail. Specifically, due to my work on "food deserts" through the Local Produce Market initiative, I was interested in whether fresh fruits and vegetables would be considered staple foods. The answer from staff was no.
With broad consensus that this was not good enough, the committee postponed the item and asked staff to do more work. Today, they came back with their new recommendation: "All grocery stores licensed under this chapter must offer for sale food for home preparation and consumption, on a continuous basis, at least three varieties of qualifying food in each of the following four staple food groups, with perishable food in at least two of the categories: 1. Meat, poultry, or fish; 2. Bread or cereal; 3. Vegetables or fruits; 4. Dairy products. (They also wrote a new definition for perishable foods: "Those items that are fresh, un-refrigerated or refrigerated staple food items that will spoil or suffer significant deterioration in quality within two to three weeks.")
What we quickly noticed was that this new recommended ordinance language does not require fresh fruits and vegetables, despite the committee's clear direction. A store offering bread, milk and only fruits and vegetables in cans would meet these requirements.
My office also heard that staff with the Department of Health and Family Support have not had a chance to weigh in on this important regulatory change, which offers an opportunity to address one of their current public health concerns: lack of access in parts of the City to healthy foods.
In response, I moved to postpone this item yet again, and direct Regulatory Services staff to work with Health and Family Support and at least one expert in food policy and nutrition from outside of City government, to come up with better ordinance language. I hope that next time the committee sees this recommended ordinance change, it will be in a state that will really help provide access to the full spectrum of foods that people need to stay healthy in all parts of our City.