1Apple Grocery an Oasis in a 'Food Desert'
You know the saying about an apple a day keeping the doctor away. Now two USF students are hoping that “one apple” might help keep an entire neighborhood healthy.
Hector Angus and Andrea Little have opened 1Apple Grocery in Plant City, in part to provide relief in a so-called “food desert.”
"A food desert is an area where the residents don’t have access to fresh fruits, or nutritious foods," said Angus, who's pursuing his bachelor's degree in information technology with a minor in business.
"So that’s one of the problems that we’re trying to tackle with 1Apple is being able to provide the fresh produce for the families," added Little, who just completed her third year of medical school.
1Apple’s target customers are members of Florida WIC (women, infants and children), a federally funded nutrition program that provides low-income clients with financial aid so that they can buy healthy food.
While research has found that every dollar spent on WIC saves as much as three dollars on Medicaid, the program is very specific, not only in terms of what they can buy, but also in how much of a product they can get.
For example, clients can purchase juice, but only if it’s in one of four sizes -- in a plastic bottle or jug and only if it’s 100% juice, not a blend. And believe it or not, there’s a whole other set of rules about refrigerated plastic jugs or cartons of juice (you can see just how complex the rules are in this flier).
1Apple (named as such so it appears first in lists directing WIC clients to eligible stores) aims to help customers navigate what can at times be a very difficult system.
"In a way it’s very good that they are so precise, because they are securing the fact that they are only getting healthy food items for the families," Little said. "The other side of that, it’s sometimes difficult for them to find the right items so, what we do here at 1Apple is we only stock approved items for WIC, so anytime a family comes in and they’re shopping with their WIC, EBT cards or vouchers, everything in the store is already preapproved."
1Apple originally had a store in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood of Tampa for three years, but Angus says they had to close that location this May due to issues with the landlord. The new location opened in June, with a formal ribbon cutting earlier this month.
The store is located on Baker Street in Plant City, right across the street from the local WIC office.
"Often times the clients are underserved in more ways than just food, so by being close proximity to the WIC clinic, we can help those who have limited access to transportation," Little explained.
"I think it’s real important. That’s one reason I came down to see it for myself first hand," Plant City Commissioner Michael Sparkman said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. "It’s very exciting. It’s a need that’s being filled."
Angus pointed out that non-WIC customers are also welcome to shop there, pointing out that the "food desert" hurts everyone in the area, not just WIC clients.
"We have a few (customers) from the area since we’ve been open, and they like the store," he said. "This is basically the only grocery store they have in probably about a mile from where we are."
Little, who just completed her third year of medical school, is also using the store to further her business education. 1Apple is the topic of her studies in the Business Scholarly Concentration program, a USF Health program that lets students like her explore the business side of medicine outside of school.
In addition, she’s taking some time off from med school to start pursuing her MBA, which led to the question: “How do you balance your time?”
"That’s a question I get often and I still have yet to find the answer for it," she answered with a laugh.
1Apple is also a member of USF CONNECT’s Student Innovation Incubator, which provides advice and assistance to student entrepreneurs.
"Sometimes we have faced challenges, and all we have to do is just call for help," Angus said.
"For me, it feels like a child moving forward," said Keosha Poole, co-founder of the Innovation Incubator. "I believe, for the university and USF CONNECT and all of our partners, I think that it feels like we are supporting the right businesses coming out of USF."
And that assistance certainly comes in handy to a pair of students who started with a dream, some basic knowledge, and very little else.
"I never saw myself running a grocery store, of course, I didn’t have any knowledge of this field," Angus said. "This is an adventure that I’m going into with my partner, and so far we have sometimes cried, sometimes we have found a lot of joy."
Angus and Little say that with other "food deserts" around, future expansion of 1Apple to multiple locations is a possibility. For now, they just want to make the Plant City store as successful as they can.