The Fresh Market, which opens a new store in Carytown this week, appears to be the only grocery chain in metro Richmond that does not accept food stamps.
The store won't take payment from two federal assistance programs — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.
"They are saying to a whole class of people — working poor, military families — we don't want your business," says Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. This includes some 12,000 military families, many of which receive such payments.
"It seems at odds with their statement about diversity and inclusion and empowerment," Gastañaga says, referring to the company's website. "Except some of their neighbors aren't welcome. So that's not so friendly, is it?"
The Fresh Market posts its business philosophy online as providing "quality products to our friends and neighbors in a friendly and inclusive environment."
Richmond-area grocers that accept such payments include Kroger, Food Lion, Whole Foods Market, Ellwood Thompson's Natural Market, Martin's and Wal-Mart. In Virginia, Trader Joe's and Target accept SNAP but not WIC.
While it's a company-wide policy, Drewry Sackett, a spokeswoman for the Fresh Market, says the chain is in the process of updating its systems to accept these forms of payment, but has no definite timeline in mind.
Mayor Dwight Jones is contacting Fresh Market to see if there is an "alternative approach," his press secretary, Tammy Hawley, says.
"He is interested in the Administration having a conversation with Fresh Market on this," Hawley writes in an email, "and has asked the Department of Economic and Community Development to pursue a discussion to determine if an alternative approach might be an option, especially in light of the demographics in our city."
SNAP is a federal nutrition-assistance program of the Department of Agriculture and distributed through the states. In fiscal year 2011, 44.7 million people — or about one in seven Americans — received assistance from it. Almost half of its beneficiaries are children, and 41 percent of recipients live in households where at least one person has a job. Eligibility is based upon income and liquid assets.
WIC also provides assistance to those with low or no income, but targets pregnant and new mothers, who meet income guidelines and are determined to be at a nutrition risk. Unlike SNAP, WIC assistance can be used only for specific healthy foods such as fruit, eggs and milk.
Neither program can be used to purchase tobacco or alcohol.
Founded in Greensboro, N.C., in 1982, the Fresh Market chain has two stores in Henrico and Chesterfield counties. A news release for its Carytown opening boasts of the store's "bountiful produce department," as well as its 30 varieties of freshly baked bread and 200 imported and domestic cheeses. Opening Sept. 19, the store is the company's eighth in Virginia.