Will online grocery shopping catch on with SNAP recipients?

February 13, 2018 | Press Releases & Announcements

Noemi Rodriguez

Noemi Rodriguez

Noemi Rodriguez, a doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Healthy Policy (CUNY SPH), along with colleagues has published a paper examining Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients’ use of an online grocery purchasing pilot program that accepts Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) payments.

In this mixed-methods study, the authors collected EBT purchase data from an online grocer and attempted a randomized controlled trial in the South Bronx, New York City, followed by focus groups with SNAP beneficiaries aged 18 years and older. Participants were randomized to shop at their usual grocery store or an online supermarket for 3 months. Focus groups explored barriers and motivators, such as free shipping and discounts, to online EBT redemption.

The researchers found that few participants made online purchases, even when incentivized in the randomized controlled trial. Qualitative findings highlighted a lack of perceived control over the online food selection process as a key barrier to purchasing food online.

The researchers conclude that Electronic Benefit Transfer for online grocery purchases has the potential to increase food access among SNAP beneficiaries, but challenges exist to this new food buying option. Rodriguez explains, “Using SNAP benefits for online grocery purchases has the potential to expand options for more healthy food acquisition among SNAP recipients. This can be challenged by a variety of factors, most saliently the perceived loss of control over the food selection process including the lack of a sensorial experience with one’s food and inability to inspect quality prior to purchase to determine value.“

Understanding online food shopping barriers and motivators is critical to the success of policies targeting the online expansion of SNAP benefits. Rodriguez concludes, “These findings are important in light of the US Department of Agriculture’s anticipated 2018 SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot in eight states across the nation.”

The findings of this study were published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.