In some respects, it seems odd that Expo West would offer an educational session on food deserts -- communities lacking food outlets -- as it did on Saturday morning. The retailers at this show run natural food stores with higher-than-average prices, so it's unlikely that any of them are going to open stores in low-income food desert communities.
On the other hand, the issue at the heart of food deserts is the tragic lack of nutritional food -- and what food retailers know more about that than natural and organic food retailers? Moreover, the retailers who do tend to open stores in food deserts are small, independent operators who form a close relationship with their customers -- which are also characteristics of natural food retailers.
The irony of food deserts is that the U.S. as a whole is a kind of food desert, given the extent of the obesity and diabetes problems afflicting this country. As one of the speakers at the food desert session, Brahm Ahmadi, CEO of the Oakland, Calif.-based People's Community Market, noted, by 2020, 50% of Americans are projected to have diabetes, a disease linked to poor nutrition. Food deserts, he said, with their limited access to fresh foods, are "ground zero" for this problem.
So if the food industry -- natural food retailers included -- can figure out how to deal with food deserts, it will probably be in a better position to address the nutritional issues of the country as a whole.