In recent months, SNAP benefits – better known as food stamps – have come under fire from politicians, and most recently, a group of mayors called for soda to be disqualified for purchase by SNAP recipients. We all know that these misguided efforts will not address the complex problem of obesity; but perhaps no one knows better what SNAP recipients spend their benefits on than those on the front lines: the grocers themselves, and they agree that government should stay out of people’s shopping carts.
Burt Saltzman, chairman of Dave’s Markets in Cleveland, Ohio, knows as much as anyone about the way grocery store customers are shopping, and he confirms that the majority of SNAP recipients are not spending their benefits on soda. From Saltzman:
"They also buy lots of vegetables and produce. You can tell they are trying to stock their freezers and refrigerators with the essentials. They’re not spending much of their assistance on things like soda."
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “When Saltzman has an opinion on food and public policy, he’s worth listening to. He studies his customer base closely. He knows a thing or two about people who have mastered the art of stretching a grocery dollar.” More from Salzman and an excerpt from the article:
"I don’t want to sound like I’m speaking out of self-interest, but I really don’t like this attack on soda pop. I understand the obesity health concern. But why are they singling out soda?"
"I find it a bit patronizing and a bit puzzling."
That’s part of what puzzles Saltzman about the full frontal attack on soda, being led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There are many other food items that he offers for sale that are arguably less healthy than soda, and he wonder’s [sic] if they will also soon end up on a grocery hit list for poor people.
If the government is going after poor people’s soda now, he wonders, when will it start prohibiting the purchase of lard products (pig fat) or smoked meats?
What concerns Saltzman beyond what he views as an unnecessary government intrusion into the grocery industry is the patronizing tone of a government approved shopping list.
"I think people are becoming more aware of what they eat and what they should eat. I watch people reading labels and trying to understand what they are consuming."
"Do we really need government to tell us what we can or can not eat? I think people are capable of educating themselves and the market can respond by creating healthier products."
"We’ve already see the beverage companies doing this by coming out with sugar-free options or drinks with no calories."