Less than four months after opening, the Gem City Market is adding programs in the hopes of improving the health of its shoppers, serving new customers and boosting sales.
In keeping with its mission to expand access to healthy and affordable food, the Gem City Market has launched a new rewards program that provides a dollar-for-dollar match on produce purchases made with food stamp benefits.
Foods stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), account for more than one-third of sales at the market, according to its estimates.
More than 81,000 adults and children in Montgomery County receive food stamp benefits ― a number that has increased in recent months, state data show.
The Gem City Market has seen its sales slide after an initial shopping frenzy when the store opened in mid-May.
But market officials say this was not surprising and sales should rebound and grow and revenues are tracking at about 75% of first-year projections.
“We’re still growing and we’re still learning,” said Leah Bahan-Harris, Gem City Market General Manager. “We have plenty of programs we’re just jumping off.”
On Wednesday, the Gem City Market at 324 Salem Ave. became one of eight locations in Montgomery County to offer the Produce Perks program.
The statewide program incentivizes buying fruits and vegetables with food stamp benefits by providing a $1-to-$1 match on these items, up to $25 per day.
The market’s program is a unique loyalty model that awards points for produce purchases.
The Gem City Market and Dots Market in Kettering both joined the network of Produce Perks locations on Wednesday, said Debbie Serenius, director of health partnerships with Produce Perks Midwest.
Last year, program participants across the state received about $855,000 in free produce as rewards for their healthy shopping purchases, she said.
The Gem City Market also has become a “produce prescription program redemption location,” which gives patients vouchers for free produce to promote healthy lifestyles.
“We truly hope that Daytonians will take advantage of our programs and shop at this beautiful produce location,” Serenius said.
The Gem City Market is holding a Produce Perks sign-up drive through Saturday, but customers can enroll at any time at the store’s customer service counter.
About 35% of the market’s sales are paid with food stamp benefits, and the store averages about 300 customers per day ― sometimes more, or about 400, according to Bahan-Harris.
The market saw very high levels of sales and foot traffic when it first opened, but that was not sustainable and sales slid after that, she said.
But sales should increase through more community engagement, Bahan-Harris said, and the market is adding programs and continues to evolve and adapt to the needs and wishes of the people it serves.
“Foot traffic is pretty good,” Bahan-Harris said. “I think sales are good, and of course we want sales to grow.”
Early on, the market was still figuring out the right product mix, and it took time to get staff trained and finish the space, she said.
The market recently modified its produce section after more than 100 customers filled out comment cards offering feedback about what they like and do not like about that part of the store.
Fresh herbs were added and put on display, and the market expects to add a flower section this week.
Generally, the feedback showed the produce section is the community’s favorite part of the store, said Sarah Richard, outreach coordinator with the Gem City Market Cooperative.
“We asked what is missing,” she said. “But it was exciting to see that people really do enjoy the produce department.”
Right now, the market is collecting feedback from customers about its dairy and frozen food sections.
“We’re getting a lot of feedback on cheese right now,” Richard said.
The Gem City Market now has more than 4,900 members, who receive special discounts and who own a stake in the store.
The market recently started distributing membership cards so customers can bring up their accounts with a swipe of a card instead of having to manually input their information.
On Wednesday, 28-year-old Kirk Davis filled out a form to sign up for the Produce Perks program.
Davis said he’s been trying to eat healthier. He said the program seems like a good deal and hopefully it will help improve his diet.
“I decided to sign up because you don’t ever get an opportunity like this,” said Davis, who lives a few blocks from the market.