Walk into a convenience store in Herkimer County and you might see signs of good health, literally.
It’s part of a Herkimer County HealthNet program called the Healthy Store Initiative that’s meant to draw customers’ attention to certain products.
“You are going to see signage identifying the healthy options in the store and you’re going to see posters with our concept, which is the green, yellow, red concept for marketing healthy items,” said program coordinator Elyse Enea.
Green means eat any time, yellow sometimes and red once in a while, she explained.
The program highlights foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
So far the program is in three Herkimer County stores with two more in the pipeline and a sixth in discussions, Enea said. The Mohawk Village Market, Salisbury Country Store in Salisbury Center and Carney’s Corners in Herkimer all participate.
“We’ve been identified as a county that you would call a food desert. So we have people living in areas where they don’t have access to large grocery stores and a lot of their shopping gets done at corner stores,” Enea said.
The program is being funded by a four-year Local IMPACT grant from the New York State Department of Health. A previous HealthNet program, the grant for which has now expired, helped convenience stores to stock healthier foods, for example, by helping them purchase coolers for fresh produce.
“We do the meat counter … we also carry produce and all the other things they were talking about for healthy eating,” said Kathy Welch, who owns the participating Mohawk Village Market along with her husband, Lee. “And I’m certainly not opposed to healthy eating for everybody. So it was a no-brainer, I guess. I thought it would be a good fit.”
Customers definitely notice the signs about healthy eating habits and directing attention to healthy foods, she said.
“It’s not like it’s telling you to stop (eating something). It’s tell you to think about what you’re buying,” Welch said, adding that she’s not certain whether the program has changed any buying habits yet.
When stores sign up for the program, HealthNet and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Herkimer County staff do an assessment of the store and work with owners on how they can increase the visibility of healthy foods through signage, display and location.