By Kahfii King, Program Manager, Healthy Food Financing Initiative
The Reinvestment Fund has developed a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to improving the nutritional landscape for underserved urban and rural communities. A key component of the approach is the American Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a public-private partnership managed by the Reinvestment Fund on behalf of USDA Rural Development to increase access to healthy food in underserved areas.
In 2022, HFFI awarded $22.6 million in grants to 134 projects, 45% of which benefited rural communities. 26 of these healthy eating projects are located in the Southeast. Chicory Market was one of the grantees who received funding for their projects.
When the small “farmers market” style store that served the Oxford, Mississippi community for over 30 years closed in 2016, the neighborhood had limited access to fresh food. Chicory Market, a full-service community grocery store, took over the space in 2017. Since then, the 1,800-square-foot market has been committed to not only increasing access to healthy, affordable food for residents of Oxford-Lafayette County, but also also increase the connectivity of the local food system in Oxford.
The Chicory Market is run by Oxford natives Catherine Bishop and John Martin. Together, they set out to connect local farmers and food producers with a fast-growing community that otherwise relies on driving up to 30 miles to large supermarkets like Walmart or Kroger. Chicory Market addresses this access gap by operating seven days a week and offering its shelves and customers an expanded selection of fresh, local produce, as well as staples and perishable foods.
After four years of collaboration and hard work, Chicory Market grew its team to 24 employees and tripled its revenue – and continues to dream big. In 2022, a $200,000 grant from the Reinvestment Fund’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative enabled Chicory Market’s expansion plans to create a collaborative food space. The collaboration will bring at least five local grocery vendors under one roof to manage various departments and create a full-service grocery store. Because each supplier partner operates as a separate entity, Chicory Market will enter into a unique agreement with each supplier that best suits their needs. Vendor partners share the cost of commercial rental space, utilities, point-of-sale system and other core operating costs.
Partnerships are already in the works with Home Place Pastures, which will manage the butcher department, Johnston Hill Creamery, which will bring its operations in-house and offer cheese and other dairy products made from local milk, and Sweet Magnolia, which will operate a frozen dessert stand.
Owner John Martin explained: “We have a lot of expertise in the community. Whether it was a farm that raised cows and pigs and processed them, or a cheese maker… but they all worked in separate areas, which distributed everything for the consumer and forced them to do the work to produce local food support.”
Funding from HFFI will help Chicory Market offer affordable products – a priority for local shoppers amid rising housing costs – while paying local farmers and producers fair prices for their products. Chicory Market currently works with 75 farmers and food producers and this expansion will triple its retail space and make room for more product variety.
With more total space, the market can accommodate more inventory and a diverse product mix, which also means lower prices for customers. For partner providers, a centralized space means higher volume and lower production and material costs.
“Without HFFI, we would not have been able to secure the financing necessary for the expansion. HFFI acted as our equity capital,” said co-founder John Martin. Major funding for construction came from the First National Bank of Oxford, a community bank, and the Three Rivers Economic Development District, a regional agency, totaling $900,000. The financing from Three Rivers was particularly important because it gave Chicory access to low-interest public sector loans instead of higher-interest debt from a traditional bank. The collaborative business model also strengthened Chicory’s financial position vis-à-vis banks due to a more diversified income structure and the shared distribution of risk and responsibility among all supplier partners. The total project budget was $1.25 million.
The new Midtown location for Chicory Market and its co-op will be about a half-mile from its flagship store and will now be directly across from an Oxford University Transit bus stop. The Chicory Market team is excited about a more central location and working with the transportation department on cross-promotion. The HFFI grant enabled more outreach and community engagement, including a part-time Community Outreach Manager, which is now paving the way for the creation of a Community Advisory Committee, as well as more visibility of Chicory’s affordable pricing structures and SNAP acceptance. Benefits and Incentives. Chicory offers more opportunities for outreach and prioritizes lower-income community members to ensure they feel included in the market and can provide feedback on what they would like to see in the store.
As the Chicory Market’s opening day approaches, the team is excited to promote its Every Day Low Prices program. They recently became members of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA), which gives them access to KeHe’s, a national grocer, pricing program and private label products. The new Chicory Market at Midtown Shopping Center will have its soft opening during the holiday season and its grand opening in early 2024.
To learn more about the HFFI program and its work in the Southeast, visit www.investinginfood.com.