Last updated: 15 May, 2020

VicHealth and The Community Grocer are joining forces to give people facing disadvantage greater access to high-quality, affordable fruit and vegetables in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Community Grocer, a non-profit social enterprise which runs five fruit and vegetable markets in public housing estates and community centres across Melbourne, will receive a $150,000 VicHealth Partnership Grant to address increased demand and ensure more locals can benefit from the initiative.

The Community Grocer tackles the major barriers stopping people from accessing fresh food, such as cost and location, and sells produce that’s around 60 per cent cheaper than supermarkets. 

VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio said access to low-cost fruit and vegetables is more important than ever right now.

“This is all about getting more fresh, Victorian produce into the hands of more Victorians. We’re excited to be supporting The Community Grocer to expand its fantastic work in providing local communities, in particular people on low-incomes, with convenient access to fresh, affordable produce,” Dr Demaio said.

“Eating a healthy diet can help us avoid long-term health problems, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, but it can also support our immune system.

“We know the cost of food is rising and the coronavirus pandemic has affected people in various ways, putting fresh fruit and vegetables out of reach for many Victorian households.

“This partnership will ensure more communities, particularly those experiencing disadvantage, can put fresh, local fruit and veggies on the table now, and for months and years to come. The markets also give people connection and purpose while following physical distancing measures, which is so important while many in our community are feeling isolated, anxious and lonely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows a spike in the cost of food in the first three months of 2020. Fruit and vegetables, meat and seafood, and cereal products, like rice and pasta, all increased in price due to bushfires, drought and the coronavirus pandemic.

The Community Grocer Founder Russell Shields said with many Melburnians struggling to afford and source healthy food at the moment, the organisation is experiencing greater demand.

“We’ve spoken with customers who have lost jobs and have serious concerns about being able to afford bills or feed themselves and their families. We are seeing many new customers at our markets because coronavirus has put more households at risk of food insecurity,” Mr Shields said.

“With supermarket prices high and often lacking culturally appropriate produce, many of our customers are solely relying on our markets for fresh fruits and vegetables.

“They’re buying more from us than ever before, because it’s high quality and much more affordable – some weeks less than a quarter of the cost at local supermarkets.”

The Community Grocer, which attracts up to 500 customers a week, has recently hired four new staff members to cope with increasing demand and implement new safety measures to help protect customers and staff from coronavirus.

Over the next 14 months, The Community Grocer will use the $150,000 VicHealth grant to reach new communities, including through new markets and innovative delivery schemes, and increase capacity at its existing markets.   

“This much-needed funding boost from VicHealth will allow us to not only meet the immediate increase in need, but also set up systems to reach more people with more produce across new community groups,” Mr Shields said. 

“For example, some of our most vulnerable customers are self-isolating, so we’ve had a surge in interest in our delivery box scheme and now have waiting lists of people wanting them.

“We will also scope new market locations and establish a centralised Community Distribution Centre in partnership with other organisations. This will enable us to purchase produce at lower costs, transform our scale and increase the efficiency of our operations. We are excited to grow our social impact and provide more people with more fruit and vegetables.”

About The Community Grocer

The Community Grocer is a non-profit social enterprise that addresses the physical, economic, and social barriers to fresh food access by:

  • holding fresh and fruit and vegetable markets in targeted communities in convenient locations

  • ensuring affordability, with prices typically 60% cheaper than other fresh food outlets

  • providing a dignified shopping experience, with a choice of high quality, nutritious and culturally-appropriate produce

  • prior to the coronavirus pandemic, creating weekly gathering spaces to celebrate diversity and encourage inclusion.

The Community Grocer’s customers represent 34 different nationalities. One in three customers are food insecure* and 86% are on low incomes. However, the markets are available to everyone. 

*Food insecurity is a complex social problem. People often experience multiple physical, economic and social barriers to fresh food access. While the cost of fresh food is the most significant factor, factors like time, mobility, mental health, cultural appropriateness and food literacy also play a role. Food insecure households typically consume little fruit and vegetables, are at increased risks for diet-related diseases, and have higher rates of obesity and poor physical and mental health.


MEDIA CONTACTS:

VicHealth Senior Media Advisor–Shannon Crane: 0432 157 270 [email protected]