Food Hub Self-Assessment Tool for Rural Grocery Stores

Rural grocery stores across the country have been struggling to stay in business, and many have been forced to shut their doors. As a consequence, many rural communities are faced with reduced access to healthy food, the loss of a grocery store as an important community center, and negative economic impacts such as the loss of jobs. Meanwhile, food hubs have also struggled to thrive in rural communities, due in part to the low overall population of many rural towns and the lack of reliable wholesale buyers that can be anchor customers for a food hub.

In the summer of 2014, New Venture Advisors attended Kansas State University’s Rural Grocery Summit where the idea emerged of incorporating food hubs into rural, independent grocery stores. The hope is that a food hub operating within a grocery store could simultaneously address both of these problems by using the existing assets of the store to reduce the upfront and ongoing fixed costs of running a hub, and serving as a new line of revenue to support the financial sustainability of the store. Our own Saloni Doshi wrote a great blog post about the experience.

In September 2015, we had the chance to actively explore this concept with four rural grocery stores in Kansas, Iowa and Michigan. We conducted a preliminary feasibility assessment of establishing a hub in identified stores, in partnership with the University of Northern Iowa, Kansas State University, Michigan State University, GNB Bank, and with funding from the USDA’s Rural Business Development Grant and Local Food Promotion Program.

In August 2016, we published the findings of this work in our New Venture Advisors report “How Might a Food Hub Operating within a Grocery Store Benefit Rural Communities?”

Rural Grocery Food Hub Self-Assessment Tool

We are excited to share a BETA version of a preliminary Food Hub Self-Assessment Tool for grocery store owners who think a food hub might be right for their store, a tool that emerged from this research and report. This widget intends to enable store owners to understand, at a very high level, the revenue they might be able to generate with their store’s existing assets.

The tool can be accessed here.

As a BETA version, this tool has not yet been thoroughly tested by store owners nationwide and as such, should be considered a very preliminary analysis to help store owners determine if the concept of a food hub is worth pursuing further. Positive output would ideally lead to a more thorough feasibility assessment and pilot effort to test the operations and logistics. Strategic and investment decisions should not be made as a result of this tool’s output.

Details on required inputs and guidance on how to interpret its output can be found within the tool itself, as well as on pages 14-18 of the report.

New Venture Advisors is in the process of testing the tool and refining it to become an easier to use and more robust assessment that provides store owners with clear guidance on if and how to move forward with food hub development in their store(s). If you are interested in helping us beta test this tool, by providing written feedback and suggestions, please contact us.

If you complete the tool and the results are promising, and you are therefore interested in exploring the development of a food hub further, here are a few resources to help get you started:

General information about running a food hub:

National Good Food Network Food Hub Center

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Food Hub Resources

Extension service in your state

Funding sources for planning and implementation:

USDA Regional Food Hub Resource Guide p. 34+

Health foundations in your state

Community foundations in your region

Regional planning commissions in your area