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Halifax creates mobile food market

New initiative aimed at providing fresh food to the region’s food deserts

New Mobile Bus

Halifax non-profit the Ecology Action Centre has partnered with the city and Public Health to create a mobile grocery store that will deliver fresh food into six food deserts in the region.

The 21-week pilot project, called the “Mobile Market Project,” will provide residents in the communities of Spryfield, Fairview, North Preston, East Preston, Halifax north and Dartmouth north with access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

A Halifax Transit bus furnished by the city will visit each community once a week. It will spend approximately 90 minutes at each destination, selling affordable food items. The program is expected to debut in late October.

Aimme Carson, community food coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, said the six communities have been identified as areas where grocery stores are not readily accessible.

Carson said that the mobile food bus approach has been utilized in other Ontario cities including Toronto (pictured) and Ottawa.  She said that key learnings from those markets include the importance of community engagement, establishing a viable business model, and procuring food.

Toronto’s “Mobile Good Food Program,” for example, ran weekly at eight areas in the city identified as having few quality and affordable grocery stores within walking distance, as well as poor access to public transit.

During the one-year pilot program, approximately 20 customers attended each site weekly, purchasing between $6-7 worth of food. Average monthly sales at the sites ranged from $188 to $888, with the number of sites reduced to five partway through the project because of low participation and sales.

A similar pilot project for Ottawa’s “MarketMobile” ran for 21-weeks in 2014, attracting between 90-100 customers on each market day. The food was purchased at cost from Loblaws, and resold with a mark-up of between 5-10%, resulting an approximately 40% cost savings for shoppers compared to regular grocery stores.

Carson said that the Mobile Market Project is still in discussion with both corporate grocery retailers and local food providers, and said that the food would likely be sourced from a combination of the two.  She said that the goal is to sell food at prices on par with discount grocery stores.

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