Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons has his sights set on tackling food deserts in New York City by bringing quality food to low-income neighborhoods. Simmons has teamed up with Hajj Hasaun Muhammad and his partner Luanna Williams to launch “Quality Access Grocery,” which will provide underserved communities with access to fresh food at affordable prices. Their ambitious plan to roll out these stores in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods will hopefully keep moms with strollers, little old ladies and other people looking for healthy produce from having to travel miles to find it.
“Hasaun and I chose to develop a business model around ‘food deserts’ because we both grew up and live in food deserts. I am very conscious about my health, and therefore my diet, so I have been frustrated by the food offerings in my neighborhood for years. The options are so limited that it feels like a conspiracy: either bad fruits or no fruits and vegetables, yet tons of junk food and fast food,” explained Williams in an interview on Global Grind.
Some of the city’s most egregious food deserts have been identified in neighborhoods like the South Bronx and East Harlem where the correlating line between obesity rates and diabetes is very thin. Despite farmer’s markets becoming regular staples in some of these communities, and the Green Cart Initiative gaining mild success, the lack of access to quality food in low-income communities remains daunting.
The team plans to follow in the footsteps of Trader Joe’s business model by sourcing 90 percent of their food offerings through private labels and adding what Simmons calls “cool vegetarian stuff”. To fund the operation, they recently launched a public crowd funding campaign that will be used towards building the first store.