In celebration of National Nutrition Month, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is looking back on past program successes.
From 2014 to 2018, NIFA and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) cosponsored the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI), which aimed to fund and evaluate projects providing point-of-purchase incentives to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households. The project is a precursor to NIFA’s Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP).
The origins of FINI date back to the Food, Nutrition and Conservation Act of 2008, which authorized $20 million for the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) to evaluate health and nutrition promotion in SNAP and to determine if incentives provided to SNAP recipients at the point of sale increased the purchase of fruits, vegetables or other healthful foods.
Launched in Hampden County, Massachusetts, HIP investigated the impact of making fruits and vegetables more affordable to SNAP participants through earning a $0.30 incentive to redeem on any SNAP-eligible food for every $1 of SNAP benefits spent on fruits and vegetables.
As reported in its 2014 final report, HIP increased the purchase of fruits and vegetables by 11% and consumption of fruits and vegetables by approximately ¼ cup per day. The success of the pilot led to the launching of FINI.
Over the life of the FINI program, $90.3 million and 114 grants were awarded to government and non-profit organizations in 42 states and the District of Columbia to design and implement one of three project types.
Pilot projects (n=44) in the early stages of incentive program development
Community-based projects (n=46) expanding the breadth, scope or reach of existing programs
Large-scale projects (n=24) focused on implementing statewide and regional incentive programs
Legislation instructed agencies to prioritize funding projects that (1) maximized the funds for incentives;(2) used direct-to-consumer sales marketing; (3) demonstrated a track record of successful nutrition incentive programs; (4) provided local or regional fruits and vegetables; or (5) were located in underserved communities.
Seventy large-scale and community-based FINI grantees collectively offered incentives at 3,052 retailers, including farmers markets, grocery stores, direct-marketing farmers, mobile markets and community-supported agriculture programs. Generally, FINI retailers were located in low-income neighborhoods with high percentages of unemployed adults and households participating in SNAP.
Grantees offered incentives in the form of rebates, discounts and prescriptions. Rebate programs were those in which a SNAP participant made a purchase and earned an incentive that could be redeemed for qualifying items on a subsequent purchase. Discount programs reduced the effective price of fruits and vegetables immediately at the point of sale. Rebates and discounts were earned upon purchases made using a SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer card.
Prescription programs incentivized purchases of fruits and vegetables for SNAP participants enrolled in health care programs. In these programs, a health care professional wrote a “prescription” for fruits and vegetables, typically in the form of a voucher redeemable from participating SNAP retailers.
Most retailers offered incentives each day they were open, while others offered them on a weekly, monthly or seasonal basis, with most using a 1:1 dollar match rate – the amount in incentives equaling the purchase price of the qualifying products, typically fresh, canned, dried or frozen whole or cut fruits and vegetables without added sugars, fats, oils and salt.
Grantees worked directly with retailers or engaged partners to assist them with various implementation tasks. Working with partner agencies also allowed grantees to serve a broader geographic area, obtain additional support to monitor FINI implementation at the retail level, and streamline core program data collection procedures. To ensure consistent FINI implementation, most grantees conducted retailer trainings.
“Those relationships [with partners] are very critical,” said one FINI grantee. “You don't have every single resource to yourself. If you're working with other partners who are bringing their own resources to it because they also have a stake in the outcome, that's really valuable.”
While ultimately successful, grantees did point to challenges in program implementation, including program administration, marketing and technology. Nearly half of the grantees perceived the overall management of FINI to be labor intensive, and some partnered with other organizations to assist them with aspects of program implementation. Grantees noted that communication and capacity issues affected marketing and outreach efforts, addressing these challenges by developing marketing materials in several languages; working with partner organizations;, identifying program champions; and developing “cheat sheets” to describe program structure. Grantees stressed the importance of building programs that take into account a community’s specific needs and preferences.
Over the course of the program, FINI grantees issued incentives worth $50.2 million and redeemed incentives worth $35.5 million—a 71% redemption rate. This included $2.09 million in prescription program incentive issuance and $1.37 million in prescription program incentive redemption. At the project’s completion, all five legislative priorities were addressed by more than 90% of FINI projects.
FINI retailers noted changes in produce sales and stocked more and different types of fruits and vegetables. Overall, the vast majority of retailers (farmers markets: 92%; grocery stores: 66%; other retailers: 84%) reported increases in sales of fruits and vegetables, as well as store profits, because of FINI. More than one-half of the retailers who reported that FINI benefits their business also observed an increase in traffic from new and/or repeat customers.
Read the Evaluation of Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Interim Report and Final Report to learn more about FINI.