Walmart, Hy-Vee and independent grocer Buche Foods are working with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition (GSCN) to pilot online grocery service for participants in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Under the effort, three projects receiving funding under a WIC grant will implement and test ways to allow WIC beneficiaries to order and/or purchase groceries online using their WIC benefits, according to GSCN, an Omaha, Neb.-based nonprofit research institution focusing on healthy diets and active living to improve public health. WIC, run by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income women and children at nutritional risk.
Plans call for Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart to enable online food shopping for participants in the Washington and Massachusetts WIC Programs, with the service available through Walmart stores in both states. GSCN said online ordering for WIC beneficiaries using Walmart as their primary store is expected to go live next year via Walmart’s Online Ordering Platform, eventually becoming available to nearly 120,000 WIC participants in Washington and 115,000 in Massachusetts.
“We’re honored to participate in the USDA and Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition’s WIC online pilot program. The pilot will make it easier and more convenient for customers in Massachusetts and Washington to order and pay for WIC-eligible items online using their electronic benefits card,” Walmart said in a statement. “Walmart has always believed that access to convenience and to fresh, quality groceries should be available to everyone, regardless of payment method. We look forward to collaborating with the Washington WIC and Massachusetts WIC agencies when the pilot goes live next year and are eager to expand this offering to even more states in the future, in the same way we’ve scaled our SNAP online purchase program.”
Meanwhile, West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee will work with the Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska WIC Programs to test an online ordering and payment solution through its grocery stores, with transactions managed by online WIC electronic benefits transfer (EBT) processor FIS/CDP, which also is participating in the Walmart WIC pilot. GSCN said the project, dubbed the Midwest States WIC Online Ordering Pilot (MSWOOP), is slated to start with one store in Des Moines and then expand into Minnesota and Nebraska.
Hy-Vee, which offers e-grocery access through its Aisles Online service, will test WIC online ordering in three states.
Mission, S.D.-based Buche Foods, which operates seven grocery stores and six convenience retail/fuel location in South Dakota, has partnered with the South Dakota and Rosebud Sioux Tribe WIC Programs to enable WIC supermarket customers to buy all of their groceries — both WIC and non-WIC — in one online transaction. Plans call for the WIC agencies to test WIC online ordering on the Oglala Lakota Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge and the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission and then, after a successful implementation, expand the service to five additional Buche Foods grocery stores.
More than 6 million women, children and infants receive WIC benefits annually, and online ordering capability can facilitate access for those with limited transportation or other issues impacting their ability to go to a grocery store, including residing in rural or remote areas, time constraints and, more recently, concerns about COVID-19, GSCN noted. Online shopping also stands to help WIC participants use more of their benefits every month and reduce the stigma that some WIC recipients feel when using their benefits, added GSCN.
“WIC has demonstrated effectiveness across several health outcomes, including diet quality. Despite this, participants face known access and equity issues when shopping with WIC benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to and exacerbated these barriers,” explained Amy Yaroch, executive director at the Gretchen Swanson Center. “Households that participate in WIC should have the opportunity to shop for foods, especially those needed to address critical nutritional needs, the way anyone else shops for food, by ordering online. These projects will create a foundation for WIC state agencies and retailers to design ordering platforms and processes to allow for WIC online ordering and transactions while maintaining program integrity and a positive customer experience.”
GSCN said it will use results from the pilots to finalize the implementation guide, the Blueprint for WIC Online Ordering Projects, to expand WIC online ordering across the country. Funded through a cooperative agreement with FNS, the project grants will last through July 31, 2023.