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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

June 9, 2015

Rural Grocery Initiative - AFRI Follow Up

Submitted by Chandra Ruthstrom

AFRI Interventions Update

Kansas State University and the Rural Grocery Initiative (RGI) were awarded a USDA grant to increase healthful food choice in rural grocery stores. The goal of the grant is to generate findings and resources that help strengthen rural communities and their food systems. The project integrates research and outreach to meet its goals. The research component analyzes the distinct and combined impacts of two interventions - nutrition education and a NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System. The outreach component develops a nutrition education curriculum for grocery stores and local community educators to replicate.

Three rural grocery stores are project partners. They are the Onaga Country Market in Onaga, KS, Hired Man’s Grocery and Grill, Inc. in Conway Springs, KS, and Gosch’s Grocery in Randall, MN.

The NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System is in place in the Onaga and Randall stores while nutrition education classes and store tours are being held in the Conway Springs store. Customers at all three stores are encouraged to swipe a customer loyalty card, provided by Loyalty Lane, when making purchases. This gives researchers data to determine the effectiveness of the store interventions on customer buying patterns. In June, the interventions will switch.

NuVal® Nutritional Scoring Intervention

The NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System rates food on a scale of 1-100, the higher the score, the more nutritious the product, the lower the score, the less nutritious the product. Each NuVal® Score takes into account more than the nutrition fact panel on the back of the item. It considers over 30 nutrients and nutrition factors like protein, calcium, vitamins, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol. The result provides shoppers with one single number that indicates the product’s overall healthfulness. This system allows shoppers to compare the nutritional value of products on the shelves, giving them the opportunity to make healthful decisions. K-State researchers are examining what, if any, impact the NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System has on customer grocery purchases.

Randall, MN, population 600, is home to Gosch’s Grocery. The owners of Gosch’s Grocery, Denny and Lori Mueller, understand that a healthful community starts at the local grocery store. Lori reports that customers, while still becoming accustomed to the NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System, are beginning to pay more attention to what they put in their shopping cart.

“Customers are responding pretty positively to the NuVal® Scores,” said Denny. “We held a seminar at the beginning of the intervention to explain the NuVal® system so that shoppers would understand what it really did and how to use it. The biggest thing it has done is create an awareness about how labels can be really misleading. For example, a product could be “fat free” but really not have any nutritional value. The NuVal® Scores help customers see that.”

Lori believes that, “In our daily shopping it’s all about convenience and not taking a lot of time. Normally, to get the healthy products it is time consuming. But NuVal® Scores allow shoppers to quickly and conveniently distinguish which product in a category has a higher nutritional value.” Lori shared, “One of our customers told us that it now takes her longer to do her grocery shopping because she is actually taking the time to read the labels and choose the healthiest item. We love that!”

“It is evident that the NuVal® Scores are making an impact on customers,” Denny explained, “Some products are territorial, so they have been a little slower at getting a NuVal® Score on them, and customers are coming up to Gosch’s employees and asking ‘Where are the NuVal® Scores for this product?’” Denny is proud to be part of such a grant, “We are happy any time we can add to what we are doing here and make the lives of our community members just a little bit better. This is allowing us to modernize our features that we offer to our customers. We love to be an ‘Us, too, kind of store.’”

Nutrition Education Classes and Store Tours

Hired Man’s Grocery and Grill, Inc., a family-owned rural store in Conway Springs, KS, is implementing nutrition education classes and store tours. The goal is to see what kind of impact nutrition education has on consumer purchase decisions. Will consumers make more healthful purchases if they are knowledgeable about what “healthy” actually means?

Linda Mirt, a K-State Research and Extension agent in Sumner County, working directly with Hired Man’s Grocery and Grill, Inc., says “The "Eat Healthy-Be Active Community Workshops" curriculum was the basis for the nutritional education modules. All the nutrition educators had input into what and how the modules would work through our monthly conference calls. The handouts for the modules came from the Choose MyPlate program and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, A Healthier You.”

Nancy Koester, Hired Man’s Grocery and Grill, Inc. store manager, says, “We have hosted two educational modules and a class at the local Friendship Meals program, where the elderly come to receive a free meal.” Koester believes it is important for shoppers to receive nutrition education so that they are equipped to make smart purchases when grocery shopping. Mirt explains, “I liked the modules. Teaching with them was easy and offered opportunity for input and questions from the participants during the activities.”

“One of the biggest things that we see occurring is customer awareness,” says Koester in regards to the store tours conducted at Hired Man’s Grocery and Grill, Inc. “For the people that have come, they have a better understanding of the difference between products. For example, apple products, while there are many products that come from the same fruit – apple sauce, apple juice – there is a huge amount of nutritional differences.” Attendees take what they learn in the store tours and apply it directly into their grocery shopping routine. “The store tours have definitely made an impact on customers!” says Koester.

Hired Man’s Grocery and Grill, Inc. has noticed a change in customer buying patterns within the last year. Koester shares, “The shift to eating healthier in our community has been around for over a year. There are new exercise programs in town, a push in both schools for eating healthy, and residents have been involved in Walk Kansas. The nutrition education modules that we are doing as part of the grant have been a nice addition to the healthy-talk around town.”

While the nutrition education modules and store tours have been successful, Koester admits, “Customers are excited for the NuVal® Scores to get here so that they can directly compare the healthfulness of products.” She believes that seeing products with the NuVal® Scores - the higher the number, the healthier the food – will encourage customers even more to commit to a healthy lifestyle. Mirt, and other K-State Research and Extension agents, have played a major role in this project. “I am glad I had the opportunity to work with the other professionals on this grant. It was fun and a joy to see variety of items purchased by the participants and to hear what they planned to make. The store owners and I are interested to learn the results of this study to see if and how the shopping habits of the community has been impacted.”

Overall, Koester says, “We are learning more and more each day!” which encompasses the goal of the grant – to learn and discover strategies that will help increase healthful food purchases in rural grocery stores. Stay tuned for more updates from our three case study stores!


This project would not be possible without our partners. Our off-campus partners include: Affiliated Foods Midwest, NuVal®, University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, and Loyalty Lane. Our on-campus partners include: Center for Engagement and Community Development, Department of Agricultural Economics (Hikaru Peterson), Department of Human Nutrition (Sandy Procter and Briana Rocker), Office of Educational Innovation and Evaluation (Valerie York), and K-State Research and Extension (Linda Mirt, Sumner County, Erin Tynon, Pottawatomie County).