Don’t Stress, Eat Fresh

By Robert J Pena

Bodegas of the Bronx are teaming up with non-profit organizations to bring healthy snacking options to the borough. “Don’t Stress, Eat Fresh” is a marketing campaign to get Bronxites to substitute unhealthy snacks with healthy options. As many as 54 bodegas across the Bronx have joined the marketing campaign that launched November 15, 2017.

Bodega owner David Diaz says he recommends fresh vegetables and water to patrons of his store on Gerard Ave. “I decided to join the campaign because we are the center of the community,” says Diaz. “We have to build a trust with one another. Let’s say my son, or anybody else’s child, can come here and leave a key to their apartment.” Diaz says his clients tell him they feel different after they stop drinking soda and unhealthy snacks. He says he tries to set a good example by changing his own diet as well.

Bodega owner David Diaz

Bodega owner William Troncoso of Makey Deli Grocery Inc. says he is attracting more clientele with healthy food options that weren’t previously available. “At the moment I sell fruit salads, cut up fruits, ham and Goya products that are low in sodium, whole wheat bread and 1% milk,” says William. “I have a few clients that do buy whole wheat sandwiches and the 1% milk, but we do need more people to be informed because some don’t know or are not well.”

The Bronx has ranked 62 out of New York State’s 62 counties in health over the past nine years. Nearly a third, 32 percent, of residents are obese, 36 percent have hypertension, and 16 percent have diabetes. A survey of residents by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that almost 18 percent had no servings of fruits or vegetables in the previous day.

In an effort to improve these statistics, non-profit bodega organizations have trained store owners to procure, sell and market healthier food and beverage options. And, they emphasize, to make it a profitable venture.

The marketing program is building on this previous work non-profits had been doing with bodegas on serving snacks to students, said Michael Jonson, a communications associate at Bronx Health REACH/Institute for Family Health. “Bronx Works was doing similar healthy bodega initiatives and it made sense if we all partnered on our initiatives.”

Montefiore has been working since 2015 with store owners to promote good health, said Elizabeth Spurrel-Huss, a senior project manager of Community and Population Health at Montefiore. In 2016 Montefiore collaborated with other organizations to create the marketing campaign, said Spurrel-Huss. “Marketing influences what people buy and we can’t compete with big companies that spend big money on ads, so that was part of the goal.”

From October 2018 through January 2019 signs were distributed in selected Bronx neighborhoods in English and Spanish. The ads were placed on taillights and interiors of Bronx MTA buses, two urban panels (signs above ground subway entrances) on the Grand Concourse, and on 28 LinkNYC screens. Mobile ads were also placed to promote 15 partner bodegas and placed on four bus shelters. Posters, along with shelf and door signs, were placed in participating bodegas and neighboring businesses.

The group hopes to expand the marketing campaign into other bodegas in the Bronx. “We are asking for funding to the delegation of the Bronx to spread the marketing campaign across the borough because of health reasons and taking a social justice lead for a greater impact,” said Spurred-Huss at Montefiore.

Marquis Garcia, a bodega owner on East 178th Street, said he decided to join the marketing campaign because of the training provided for his business. He said he sells fruits like pineapple, avocado, banana and vegetables, water, and healthy sandwiches. He believes the marketing campaign has helped the community distinguish what is and is not healthy. “The customers appreciate the things we have like avocado that we cut into pieces,” said Marquis. “They feel satisfied that they can buy a piece of it, instead of the whole avocado, which we do sell as well.”

Bronx residents that buy at these local bodegas said that this campaign brings better options to the neighborhood but could improve moving forward. “I see it as something good to the neighborhood but I believe that the campaign needs to improve by adding more marketing like flyers so that the people in the neighborhood can see what is available for them,”said Luis Miguel, 26,  a taxi driver who stops regularly at the Makey Deli Grocery Inc. and other bodegas that are a part of the campaign.

Fatima Cupids, 32, frequently buys at the bodega when she visits a friend that lives in the neighborhood by East 178 Street.  “I think it is a good effort to help people to eat better and the healthier,” she said. “I wasn’t really aware of it until a few weeks ago when I noticed the little sign that was on the door. I would give it more promotion by telling the customers that come in the bodega.”

Justin Oliver, 20, lives in the area and often goes to the Gerard Ave bodega. “Even though I don’t eat healthy at times, it is something positive to see here in the community,” he said.


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