The “Healthy Foods, Healthy Businesses: A Business and Leadership Development Training for Neighborhood Markets” event was held on Thursday, September 25, 2014 at Watts Labor Community Action Committee at Phoenix Hall, 10950 S. Central Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90059.
This event was the sixth training held by the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network (HNMN), a project of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. The Healthy Neighborhood Market Network builds the capacity of neighborhood markets to be successful healthy food retailers in under-served communities. The HNMN provides innovative business and leadership development resources to entrepreneurs operating in communities with limited healthy food access, and connects them to new partners, so that they can thrive as business and community leaders. Over 50 community residents and key stakeholders attended this training. 29 of those attendees self-reported as corner store, or small food business owners.
This year, the Healthy Foods, Healthy Businesses conference served as a pilot of a new “Healthy Neighborhood Market curriculum” that will provide a road map for successfully growing the healthy food aspect of any small business. Workshop leaders were organized into three categories of business development: Capacity, Capital, and Community. Over the course of the training, participants were encouraged to take notes during each workshop using an “Action Planning Tool,” which focused each small business owner on identifying several specific action steps to bring concrete change to their store or business.
The program began with remarks from Frank Aguirre, from Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Economic Development, Clare Fox, Director of Policy and Innovation at the LA Food Policy Council, and Jorge Nuno, Founder of NTS Creative Group. Plenary speakers set the stage for the day, describing the role of health-focused neighborhood markets in both contributing to a healthy economy and improving community health.
Part 1: Capacity
For Part 1 of the Healthy Neighborhood Markets training curriculum, workshop leaders shared expertise and tools to build the capacity of small business owners to operationalize healthy food in their stores on a day to day basis. Megan Ranegar from Whole Foods Market spoke on marketing and branding techniques for healthy food. Jin Ju Wilder from Valley Fruit and Produce shared fresh food product trends and management tips. Then, Barnaby Montgomery from Yummy.com shared a case study of his healthy neighborhood market model, and offered merchandising strategies for maximizing the profitability of fresh food products.
Networking Lunch & Vendor Expo
Following remarks from the office of Council Member Joe Buscaino (CD 15), participants enjoyed a (mostly) organic, vegetarian-friendly meal and presentation by Bibimbap Backpackers. Resource providers including healthy food vendors, business lenders and counselors, community organizations, government agencies, design and marketing consultants, small business demographics analysts, health coaches and POS system vendors – spent the lunch hour connecting with small businesses and demonstrate their products and services.
Part 2: Capital
The second part of the curriculum included strategies for accessing capital to improve healthy neighborhood markets, and how to make efficient use of that capital. The highlight of this section of the program was a market makeover case study. Nelson Garcia, a South LA entrepreneur who worked closely with the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network’s store consultant team from fall 2012 – spring 2014 to transform his corner store into a healthy neighborhood market, offered a testimonial of his experiences. Michael Powell, brand strategist and Shook Kelley and HNMN consultant, presented a case study of this market conversion pilot. Sharon Evans from Business Resource Group spoke on scaled capital investments in small businesses. Terry Gubatan from Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation reviewed the basics of business planning for growth and change.
Part 3: Community
The training curriculum concluded with tips and guidelines for identifying healthy food products, shared by Julie Ward from Love Life, Eat Well. Julie rallied training participants with an inspiring call to small business leaders as champions of healthy food in their stores, and key stakeholders in promoting community health. Clare Fox from the LA Food Policy Council coordinated a brief group discussion, where participants shared what they learned, and how they planned to put new knowledge to work after the training to grow their stores into healthy food hubs. This curriculum is currently in development.
Responses from training participants were overwhelmingly positive. Of the 15 event surveys received, all respondents were satisfied with the information provided at the training. About half of respondents reported that they operate businesses in the South LA or Central LA areas, but there were several respondents visiting from the greater LA County and beyond, including Monterey Park, Glendale, Van Nuys, Compton, and Lakewood.
A majority of small business owner respondents reported an increase in confidence about the following topics: community partnerships, branding, marketing, produce management, produce & healthy food trends, merchandise strategy, profitability of fresh food, access to capital / investment opportunities, business planning, health & nutrition.
Respondents said the most valuable parts of the event were: networking (3), healthy food marketing strategies (3), community health and nutrition (3), information about cooperative purchasing, start-up knowledge and resources, and the vendor expo/networking lunch with resource providers.
More than half of respondents were interested in growing their business through a loan or other capital investment. They reported plans to use new funds to purchase equipment, or to redesign their store.
Coming out of the training, respondents were asked about three immediate action steps. Responses were diverse, from plans to introduce a small new quantity of fruits (2), transform marketing/branding strategy (4), redesigning the store appearance, networking, community events, expand healthy food options, change customer service strategy, contact purchasing cooperative, and create a new vision/business plan.
A majority of respondents said that they would like to expand (7) the healthy food options in their store, or add new healthy food options (4) to their inventory. Remaining respondents stated that they did not own a business.
The Healthy Neighborhood Market Network will continue to offer capacity-building and networking opportunities this year!
The storeowner training curriculum will be refined and deployed as a series geared for a core leadership contingent of the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network in early 2016. In the meantime, HNMN capacity-building training events will continue to take place throughout 2015.
To receive the 2015 event calendar and other updates, please call HNMN Coordinator Esther Park at 213-473-9739 or email healthymarkets[at]goodfoodla[dot]org and request to receive the HNMN Resource Newsletter.