Today the House of Representatives voted to pass the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, known more colloquially as the “Farm Bill.” The bill has received copious media attention because of its role in determining eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP), which would affect more than 42 million Americans. Less reported, however, is its potential impact on the online grocery market.
In January 2017, the USDA announced an “online pilot” for accepting SNAP benefits. The pilot was supposed to apply to nine retailers in eight states and expand nationally by early 2018. However, L2 analysts found that only Walmart and FreshDirect have enabled SNAP as a payment mechanism for their online grocery services. Neither Instacart or Shipt, the programs adopted by the majority of retailers in Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Grocery, allows SNAP benefits to be used for online purchases.
Furthermore, many of these services have yet to be offered in what the USDA calls “food deserts.” These are areas of the country where more than a third of the population lives over a mile from a supermarket and doesn’t have access to a car. In other words, they are the communities that would seem to need online groceries the most.
The 2018 Farm Bill authorizes “online entities” and “web service providers” to begin accepting SNAP payments, meaning that more grocers and online services could begin opening up to accepting SNAP payments online. The bill still has a long way to pass, however, as as the version in the Senate shied away from imposing tough working requirements for program eligibility.
As technology advances, many of the affordances of online convenience have “trickled to the top” to consumers who can afford to spend more for fast delivery. It’s also important to invest in technology that helps those with the least amount of access.