Access to fresh, healthy and affordable food is a problem for many low-income Americans. In some neighborhoods, the closest supermarket could be miles away. Those that don’t have transportation, or are low-income, may only have a local store to shop at, where prices are higher and fresh food is not as easily available. As a result, food insecurity and diet-related health issues such as obesity and diabetes become a reality for the economically vulnerable among us. This phenomenon is called a “food desert”, a designation given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While most would assume that major U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., Detroit and New York would be immune from this problem, often larger cities have larger food deserts. For example, in Washington D.C., 11% of the city is in a food desert. In Detroit, 30,000 residents do not have access to a regular grocery store, and as a result, 48% of households are food insecure.

We wanted to take a look at this issue through the lens of retail gap. We pulled five-mile trade areas centered on every block group nationwide and tabulated the difference between retail supply and retail demand for grocery stores (NAICS 44511). Retail demand is estimated from our retail potential dataset, which is derived by a summary of our consumer expenditures to merchandise line and store type. Supply is from our retail sales database, built using BusinessCounts and estimating sales based on employee counts at local stores. The Retail gap product is the difference between the two.

In Los Angeles (map below), there is a noticeable lack of grocery stores in southcentral and East Los Angeles, as well as underserved areas in the San Fernando valley and some of the lower income areas of the San Gabriel valley and San Bernardino/Riverside. Notably, many grocery stores in these areas were burned down in the 1965 Watts riots, and then again during the Rodney King riots in 1992. Many of those stores were never rebuilt, and as a result, food deserts are amplified in these areas.

Los Angeles, CA

In Chicago, most of the food deserts are in the south side, which is an African American community. The map below shows these areas in detail. Access to fresh, healthy food has been an issue for decades in these neighborhoods.

Chicago, IL

We hope that this has been an interesting look into food deserts, and retail gap. Retail databases can be used for normal retail analysis, but also as a look into social issues that effect our society.