Good Food Corner Stores

Good Food Corner Store Initiative

Good Food Corner Store logo

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) worked on the Good Food Corner Store (GFCS) Initiative between 2015 and 2018. 

OPH collaborated with many community partners and business sectors to explore ways to increase access to fresh vegetables and fruits and healthy staple foods in neighbourhoods with limited access to grocery stores.

Good Food Corner Store Guide for Store Owners and Operators on Stocking Healthy Staples

The GFCS Initiative included three components: 
  1. Food retail assessment 
  2. Consumer survey and corner store surveys 
  3. Good Food Corner Store Pilot

The initiative ended but we continue to share our pioneering experiences with the GFCS initiative and explore future opportunities for other viable and sustainable programs. For more information, see GFCS Pilot Summary Report

The GFCS Guide for Store Owners and Operators on Stocking Healthy Staples was developed as part of the GFCS Pilot led by OPH. It was reviewed and tested by the participating corner store operators. The purpose of this GFCS Guide is to provide practical tips on increasing fresh produce and other healthy staple foods at corner store in Ottawa neighbourhoods. Increasing sales of fresh produce in neighbourhoods has been shown to improve the health environment. This GFCS Guide is a small but important step to help increase access to healthy foods in our neighbourhoods. Please download your copy and use it in your business or community development initiatives.  

Why corner stores?

A lack of grocery stores in neighbourhoods limits residents’ ability to make healthy food choices. For residents with limited access to transportation, they may rely on corner stores for their food shopping. However, most corner stores sell primarily processed foods and beverages high in sugar, salt and fat; few offer fresh produce or other healthy food options. Healthier Corner store programs which aim to increase the sale of fresh produce by local retailers, are among the many strategies used to improve the health environment in priority neighborhoods.

The majority of Canadians’ food purchasing happens in retail stores. Healthier corner store initiatives are gaining popularity as a way of creating neighbourhoods where buying and selling healthy food is easy for both the residents and the corner store

Why focus on selling fresh vegetables and fruits in corner stores?

  • Supporting small businesses to increase the sale of fresh produce has been shown to improve the health environment of low income neighbourhoods. 
  • Increasing access to good food and providing customers with more choices in food retail stores contributes to a healthier food environment. 
  • Some neighbourhoods in Ottawa have more corner stores and less full scale grocery stores per thousand people than others.
  • Food insecurity is a serious public health issue. Food insecurity, defined as inadequate or insecure access to food, continues to persist in Ottawa. Food-insecure adults report poor health, including mental, physical and oral health, and chronic conditions such as depression, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Ottawa food retail assessment

Ottawa has approximately 377 corner stores located in 108 neighbourhoods:

  • 37 per cent (142) of these are co-located with gas stations.
  • 59 per cent (221) of corner stores are independent and 41 per cent (156) are chain operated.

There are more corner stores (74 per cent) in 40 low socioeconomic status neighbourhoods and 23 neighbourhoods are classified as ‘food deserts’. Corner stores are also generally closer to homes (1.5 km) than grocery stores (4 km). (Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, 2013)  

Resident survey

In 2016, a survey was conducted by OPH with 603 Ottawa residents to assess their habits and beliefs about shopping in their local corner stores.

Key findings:

  • People shop for food at a grocery store twice per week and in a corner store once per month.
  • More than half of respondents do not shop at corner stores for food.
  • Younger adults shop at corner stores more often than older adults (60+ years).
  • Proximity to home and convenience are top reasons to shop at corner stores.
  • Almost half (48 per cent) of respondents consider the availability of fresh produce at corner stores poor or very poor.
  • Local produce and comparable prices were top ideas to encourage buying from corner stores. 

Corner store surveys

Ottawa Public Health visited 78 corner stores that included corner store owner interviews and observational surveys. The aim was to raise awareness of the initiative, to learn about business practices and barriers around stocking and selling fresh produce and to recruit Good Food Corner Store Pilot stores.

Ottawa Good Food Corner Store Pilot

Corner store owner with baskets of fresh produceEight corner stores participated in the 6-month Good Food Corner Store (GFCS) Pilot. OPH provided branding, promotion, resources, and links to community support. Participating corner stores committed to offer a minimum inventory of fresh produce and healthy food staples. Observational surveys, interviews, sales data and experiential knowledge were collected before, during and at end-of-pilot. Continuous improvement of processes, tracking and resources occurred during the pilot.

Community engagement was an important component of the Pilot promotion in local neighbourhoods. OPH collaborated with community, health, food security and business partners to form a GFCS Steering Committee. This group of like-minded people informed the planning, implementation and evaluation of the GFCS Pilot.

Key findings:

  • Seven corner stores completed the Pilot.
  • Successes included:
    • Increased inventory and prominence of vegetables and fruit.
    • Improved skills and confidence around tracking waste and handling fresh produce.
    • Satisfaction with the GFCS branding.
  • Challenges included:
    • Inconsistency in variety, quality and quantity of produce.
    • Procurement limitations for small businesses.
    • Limited refrigeration.
    • Waste.
    • Low consumer demand.
    • Lack of point-of-sale tracking. Therefore, the financial impact was difficult to assess.

Conclusions and next steps:

Ottawa’s GFCS Pilot was completed in 2018. The project contributed to the existing limited evidence on the impact of healthy corner store programs in Canada. Although the current model has its weaknesses that make it difficult to sustain, we will continue sharing lessons learned with community and business partners. 

For more information, see GFCS Pilot Summary Report


Ottawa Public Health supported the following research projects to gain a deeper understanding of corner store practices and ways to make access to fresh vegetables, fruits and healthy staple foods in corner stores sustainable and attractive to both retailers and consumers:

An introduction to the healthy corner store intervention model in Canada. Catherine L Mah, Leia M Minaker, Kristie Jameson, Lissie Rappaport, Krystal Taylor, Marketa Graham, Natalie Moody, Brian Cook. Can J Public Health; 2017 Sep 14; 108(3):e320-e324. doi: 10.17269/CJPH.108.5801.

Corner store retailers’ perspectives on a discontinued Healthy Corner Store Initiative. Meghan Lynch, Marketa Graham, Krystal Taylor. Community Health Equity Research and Policy; 2021 Apr 6.

 For more information about the GFCS initiative, please contact Marketa Graham at or 613-580-2424 ext., 23649.





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