Dollar General is selling fresh produce. Why that access matters.

Fruits and vegetables are now being sold at 5,000 Dollar General stores. The discount store reached its produce target in January 2024, a move that they said will benefit the small communities Dollar General reaches. “Approximately 80% of Dollar General stores serve communities of 20,000 or fewer people, and residents in these communities often rely on the retailer for their everyday essentials including components of a nutritious meal,” according to the press release. “Every Dollar General provides customers with healthy food options such as milk, eggs, bread, cheese, frozen and canned vegetables, grains, lean proteins and more, including Dollar General’s exclusive Good & Smart® private brand.”

Is Dollar General’s move toward produce a good thing? Here’s what experts have to say about it.

Discount stores are controversial

Discount stores aren’t without some controversy. Because they’re able to sell some of the same products as grocery stores for significantly less — or at least are perceived to do so by customers — they often compete with food retailers in the same area. This can lead to fewer grocery stores in areas where discount stores pop up, as the owners of grocery stores know that the discount store may impact their margins. With fewer grocery stores come fewer healthy options for consumers.

Dollar General responded to this controversy following a 2023 report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which accused the chain, and others like it, of not being a “byproduct of economic distress,” but the “cause of it.” Dollar General spokesperson Crystal Luce said that their stores simply fill the gap in the grocery industry.

Whether or not stores like Dollar General are the reason for the lack of grocery stores, or simply filling a need in a market, matters a lot less than the fact that people often don’t have nearby places to purchase food. Kelli George, registered dietitian and dietetics program director at West Virginia University, explains to Yahoo Life that Dollar General stores typically pop up in rural and low-income areas, which are often food deserts, or geographical areas where there is no access to fresh fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods. According to Dollar General’s website, customers in areas without nearby grocery stores were the ones who asked the store to include fresh items in its selection.

“When people live in those areas, they are often limited to the foods available there, which are usually foods that aren’t very nutritious, like chips, soda and candy, meaning they don’t have many vitamins or minerals or fiber to support our health,” George explains. “Individuals in these areas then are limited by their circumstances, and often can’t purchase more nutritious foods even if they want to. Bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to Dollar General gives these individuals affordable and local opportunities to eat more nutrient-dense foods that help prevent disease and promote health.”

Registered dietitian Melissa Ventura-Marra, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at West Virginia University, tells Yahoo Life that nearly half of adults in the U.S. have at least one preventable chronic disease, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, which are linked to poor quality eating patterns. Fruits and vegetables are important components of a healthy diet, she notes, but few adults are meeting the five servings a day recommendation. “Price and availability are among the barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption in the general population, and especially among families with low incomes,” she explains.

It’s important to note that not every product at Dollar General is always cheaper than the same one at a grocery store or big-box retailer like Walmart, and Dollar General in particular sometimes sells smaller quantities of product for less, making the cost cheaper but ultimately more per ounce. Registered dietitian Chrisanne Urban of the Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Wisc., tells Yahoo Life that, hopefully, “a larger buying power of 5,000 stores may help to reduce cost of produce.”

Where Dollar General’s impact really matters

It’s also important to note the benefit that Dollar General’s produce initiative has on people using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, as many people who shop at these discount stores regularly do. “Affordable produce helps families have a well-balanced diet,” Salaam Bhatti, director of SNAP benefits for the Food Research & Action Center, tells Yahoo Life. “For people using SNAP benefits, it will be great, because we know there are a lot of food access issues. If they have [a discount store] that is now providing fresh produce, that’s great.”

The real problem, he says, is that “produce is pricey, and organic produce even more so.” He adds: “Having food access is an issue, not just geographically but also price point-wise,” noting that low-income neighborhoods have poorer health outcomes and less longevity than those living in higher-income areas. “If these 5,000 stores are in areas where that’s a geographical issue, and the price is better, then we’ve hit two birds with one stone,” he says.

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