The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding its SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot to include more supermarket retailers, including independent grocers.
Under the pilot, launched by the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in April 2019, 46 states and the District of Columbia now allow recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — also known as food stamps — to shop and pay for groceries online from six authorized retailers using their electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards.
USDA said yesterday that more than a dozen retailers across 10 states are now engaged in the approval and testing process with FNS to launch SNAP online purchasing in the coming months.
The new retailers include Piggly Wiggly in Alabama; Aldi in Georgia; Supermercados El Guero in Illinois; New Pioneer Food Co-Op in Iowa; The Cameron Market, Sliced Bread Market, Sweet Springs Market and Woods Supermarket in Missouri; Reasor’s Foods in Oklahoma; H-E-B, Brookshire’s Food and Pharmacy, Super 1 Foods, Fresh by Brookshire’s and Spring Market in Texas; Superlo Foods in Tennessee; Safeway in Washington; St. Marys Galaxy in West Virginia; and Skogen’s Festival Foods in Wisconsin.
In late October, Aldi and Instacart unveiled plans to roll out integrated EBT payment for SNAP online grocery purchases at more than 60 Aldi stores in Georgia. In the coming months, that capability would be expanded to more than 570 Aldi stores in Illinois, California, Florida and Pennsylvania.
So far, only Amazon and Walmart are authorized as SNAP online retailers in all states. Wakefern Food Corp.’s ShopRite banner is authorized in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, while the retail grocery cooperative’s The Fresh Grocer banner is a participant in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Wright’s Market in Alabama is currently the only stand-alone independent supermarket authorized for SNAP online purchasing. FNS recently authorized IGA chain Carlie C’s for SNAP online purchasing in North Carolina.
“Online ordering is, and will continue to be, an important tool for increasing food access in communities across America,” Brandon Lipps, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at USDA, said in a statement. “USDA is working quickly to provide more SNAP participants with the opportunity to shop for food in the same way many Americans do: online.”
The SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot expansion was hailed by the grocery retail trade groups National Grocers Association (NGA) and FMI-The Food Industry Association (FMI). NGA has been working with House and Senate lawmakers and FNS to bring more independent grocers into the program.
“We were pleased to see such a sizable representation of independent grocers on this list, given the essential role these retailers have in their communities and the longstanding public private partnership that has helped to strengthen the SNAP food delivery system,” NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara stated on Monday. “Consumer demand for online services during the COVID-19 pandemic has increased tremendously, and while many independent grocers have launched innovative solutions to meet this demand and better serve their communities, it is critical that independent grocers have the ability to offer eligible food products and process SNAP payments online. I applaud FNS for its diligent work to expand this important program."
According to the USDA, the current SNAP online purchasing coverage area reaches more than 97% of SNAP participants. The agency reported that, in September, over 1 million SNAP households shopped online.
To boost the capacity of SNAP online purchasing, FNS said it aims to add another provider of secure PIN entry, which will help protect SNAP participants, allow more retailers to offer the service and give SNAP customers more shopping options.
"NGA looks forward to working together with our federal partners to bring more independent grocers on board so that they can help to meet the needs of their communities, whether those services are provided online or in-store," Ferrara added.
USDA said it’s also investing funds to enable online ordering in its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). To that end, FNS has awarded $2.5 million to the Omaha, Neb.-based Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition to develop and test a safe and secure model for WIC online ordering in up to five states.
“Now we have set our sights on bringing similar innovation to WIC, continuing our commitment to best serve those who rely on our programs,” Lipps commented.
FMI said the expansion of authorized retailers in the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot furthers the goal of ensuring all customers can buy their groceries online, regardless of how they pay.
“Consumer shopping habits are quickly evolving in these challenging times. The grocery industry has experienced a significant and sustained increase in online shopping during the past eight months. Online grocery shopping is at its highest levels since the pandemic began. According to our U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends data, weekly online shopping spend is 37.2%, up 8% from July, and the industry has dedicated substantial capital to respond to this growing demand. Offering online ordering and payment for SNAP customers is an important step to ensure that all customers have access to these services, regardless of how they pay," FMI CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a statement.
"FMI is extremely pleased the SNAP online program has increased accessibility for individuals of all ages and demographics by authorizing additional grocers and innovative service providers to accept benefits online," Sarasin said. "We are also encouraged to learn that USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has awarded a grant to explore bringing online services to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program shopper. It’s essential that programs such as SNAP and WIC evolve to embrace new technologies and do not leave behind any shoppers in a maturing digital marketplace.”
*Editor's Note: Article updated with comment from FMI.