Evaluating the Expansion of Produce Perks

The PRCHN is combining its evaluative expertise and broad knowledge of nutrition incentive programs to evaluate the Ohio Statewide Nutrition Incentive Program (OH-NIP). Implemented by the Ohio Department of Health, the project will expand the Produce Perks Program across the state in farmers’ markets and introducing the program to traditional grocery stores. Produce Perks offers a dollar-for-dollar match on fruit and vegetable purchases made among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. The PRCHN is evaluating the Nutrition Incentive Program with assistance from Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit that pilots, refines, and scales programs that get affordable produce to under-served consumers. PRCHN Associate Director Darcy Freedman, PhD, is the principal investigator of the evaluation.

Currently, approximately 100 farmers’ markets throughout Ohio will participate in the Produce Perks expansion (including all markets in the city of Cleveland). These markets are represented by five different farmers’ market networks from the five geographic regions of Ohio. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) will be implementing an advertising and branding campaign, distributing marketing materials around Produce Perks that can be personalized to a particular market. The PRCHN will be collecting transaction data from all markets implementing Produce Perks. In addition, 15 sites will be selected as Ohio Farmers’ Market Nutrition Incentive Evaluation (OH-FINE) sites during the first year and second year of the study. OH-FINE sites will test different marketing and advertising strategies to examine what factors contribute most to increasing SNAP utilization in farmers’ markets as well as what bolsters a more consistent customer base.

No grocery stores in Ohio currently accept Produce Perks or any nutrition incentive program specifically for SNAP customers. Pre-doctoral research fellow Stephanie Pike is working on the evaluation alongside Dr. Freedman, PhD. Pike notes that although OH-NIP is “starting from scratch” in implementing Produce Perks in stores, Point of Sale (POS) technology should allow ODH to introduce Produce Perks in a working grocery store by this summer. Three grocery stores in Columbiana and Trumbull Counties are scheduled to be the pilot locations. The PRCHN’s evaluation will focus heavy evaluation on two of these three sites in the first year. Up to ten stores will implement Produce Perks during the second year with a heavy evaluation of up to three stores.

The PRCHN team will collect and evaluate monthly reports of all stores and farmers’ markets implementing the program. This data includes SNAP transaction data for both farmers’ markets and grocery stores, collected at POS in stores and through the FM Tracks app in farmers’ markets. These reports will include how many SNAP dollars were spent, how much was spent on fruits and vegetables, how many Produce Perks were distributed, and how many were redeemed.

Data from the heavy evaluation sites will include key stakeholder interviews with SNAP customers and retail staff; customer intercept surveys to examine awareness of Produce Perks branding and fruit and vegetable consumption; and store audits to examine any changes in product placement and advertising strategies. In the farmers’ market setting, PRCHN researchers will collect data on new and returning SNAP customers and market-level characteristics and advertising strategies.
Pike notes that the PRCHN evaluation will be using the Plan Do Study Act model of research to test change. “During the first year, we’ll be learning what strategies are working and what aren’t. The evaluation data from year one will then inform what we do in Year Two. This model will allow us to leverage our data to make rapid changes to implementation strategies in Year Two.” For example, the evaluation team will use Year One to identify potential marketing strategies among the heavy evaluation sites and robustly test these strategies in Year Two in different settings. She is excited to be part of the OH-NIP evaluation team. “Evaluating the program and finding out what works and what doesn’t is important work. This program can be a model for other states who want to increase access to fresh produce for SNAP recipients.”