There is no single solution that will solve the complex crisis of hunger. In a country defined by its abundance and prosperity, more than 40 million people39 across the United States live at or below the poverty line40 and rely on SNAP to buy groceries. The food gap41 is a term researchers use to describe how and why42 it’s systematically more difficult for people living in poverty to purchase nutritious foods than it is for those in higher income groups.
For the past decade, nonprofit organizations have been partnering with the USDA and grocers to leverage SNAP data, thereby ensuring program participants. Programs such as Wholesome Wave’s “Doubling SNAP” and Fair Food Network’s “Double Up Food Bucks” use data collected from supermarket loyalty cards and SNAP EBT benefit cards to double the amount of fresh produce users can purchase at participating stores and markets.
In 2007, seven years before the Farm Bill integrated incentives for healthy food purchases into its food assistance program, Michel Nischan founded his own organization to address food insecurity: Wholesome Wave. Nischan wanted to expand access to fresh produce in communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. In communities across the country, Wholesome Wave began doubling SNAP benefits spent on fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets and grocery stores. At the Saturday market in City Heights, San Diego, for example, Somali refugees are growing native pumpkin leaves and lablab beans and selling them to their community for deep discounts through the program.
Building on these successes, Wholesome Wave has launched a card-based payment platform that supports an initiative called Wholesome Rx. This fruit and vegetable prescription program is administered at participating health clinics and used by Medicaid patients who want to eat more fruits and veggies. The platform captures the entire shopping trip and offers incentives for making healthy food purchases beyond produce (hint: Ezekiel is ranked higher than Wonder Bread). It also utilizes a machine learning algorithm that aggregates data from supermarket loyalty cards to generate coupons for nutritious foods and personalized diet recommendations.