Association between store food environment and customer purchases in small grocery stores, gas-marts, pharmacies and dollar stores
OBJECTIVE Literature on food environments has expanded rapidly, yet most research focuses on stores and community characteristics without integrating customer-level data. The present study combines customer shopping behaviour with store food inventory data. DESIGN Face-to-face interviews were conducted with customers shopping in corner stores to measure food shopping behaviour, household food security and demographics. Store inventories were conducted to measure availability of healthy food in corner stores. Multilevel logistic regression models estimated the probability of customers purchasing a food item given the availability of that item in the store. SETTING Nineteen corner stores in Hartford, CT, USA, average size 669 ft(2) (62.15 m(2)). SUBJECTS Sample of 372 customers. RESULTS The majority of customers were Black or Hispanic (54 % and 40 %, respectively) and 61 % experienced food insecurity. For each additional type of fruits or vegetables available in the store, the estimated odds of a customer purchasing fruits increased by 12 % (P = 0.03) and the odds for purchasing vegetables increased by 15 % (P = 0.01). Customers receiving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were 1.7 times as likely to purchase fruit as those not receiving SNAP (P = 0.04). Greater availability of reduced-fat milk was not associated with increased likelihood of customers purchasing reduced-fat milk. CONCLUSIONS There is a positive association between fruit and vegetable variety and the probability that a customer purchases fruits and vegetables. Increasing the selection of produce in corner stores may increase their consumption by food-insecure and low-income residents at risk for health disparities. These findings have implications for future store interventions and food policies.