A Better Kind of Food Shelf Model


You may know that food shelves are based on different models. A standardized food box model is when a food shelf puts together a standard box or bag filled with the same items. A client choice model is when an individual chooses their food like in a grocery store. But the newest model, SuperShelf, takes the client choice model to the next level—and Neighborhood House is getting certified.

The SuperShelf model puts the participant’s health and wellbeing at the forefront. The environment is client-centered and respects individual choice while increasing access to a variety of healthy, culturally appropriate food. Food categories and displays emphasize fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and cooking ingredients, making the healthiest choice the easiest choice. An organization can become SuperShelf certified once they’ve met rigorous criteria addressing these areas.

We are so excited that we’re going through the certification process. It’s important to everyone at Neighborhood House that our participants have access to healthy food and can receive that food in a way that is dignified, respectful, and enjoyable. SuperShelf makes this a reality.

In 2017, we started to model our food shelves after the Valley Outreach food shelf. Through a partnership with Lakeview Health Partners called Better Shelf for Better Health, Valley Outreach food shelf underwent a transformation which later became the SuperShelf model of today. We found that reorganizing our food categories gave participants more of a choice in picking items that they like and use. So for example, traditional categories may be set up so that a participant can pick one oil, one taco spice, one jelly, one mayonnaise, and one mustard. If someone has no use for mustard, they get four items instead of five. But by combining these items into one category and allowing participants to pick any five of their choosing, their options increase and they can come away with more food.

Anne Johnson began volunteering in the food market in 2013 prior to the remodel. She says, “The space was extremely tight for shopping and participants did not have as many options as they shopped.” She explains that since the remodel, “The food market is able to store and display more choices for patrons.” Anne hopes that with the latest updates needed to become SuperShelf certified, participants will feel more like they’re shopping in a grocery store due to the changes in appearance and increased food options.   

When we decided to become SuperShelf certified this year, we were more than halfway there thanks to the 2017 remodel. The last piece of the puzzle was the physical transformation and logistics. We purchased new bins, baskets, signage, banners, and posters—all designed to make shopping quicker, easier, and more enjoyable. We renamed and reorganized food categories based on behavioral principles to encourage healthier choices and discourage feelings of food scarcity. By putting sweets at the end of the shopping line, a shopper arrives with a full cart and is less likely to choose these unhealthy options. By keeping shelves fully stocked and redesigning categories to allow more options, shoppers feel a lessened sense of anxiety that food is scarce.

Becoming SuperShelf certified is all about restoring dignity to families experiencing food insecurity. Shopping will feel similar to a grocery store, allowing shoppers to choose foods based on personal preference. Most importantly, shoppers will be able to get more food than before. We hope that families will worry less about food running out, they’ll increase their intake of healthy foods, and their health and wellbeing will flourish.