Fruits, veggies and sandwiches sit in the cooler by the front door of Downtown Market while the rest of the large room is stocked with 25 coolers of alcohol, a back shelf with cigarettes and shelves with snack food and wine.
Market owner Jit Singh expanded his healthy food selection and bought a larger cooler after the Blue Zones Project team approached him about being a source for healthy foods in the food desert that is downtown.
“We asked people what they like and did a change here and a change here with more healthy stuff,” Singh said. “We listen to the customers so they have choices, what they want and what they need. We make customers happy. I’m learning more. When you work with other people, you learn more from more experience.”
Before the Blue Zones Project approached him, he had already been making sub sandwiches, but the organization helped him bring in produce and brought in a volunteer Registered Dietician Nutritionist, Jenny Wood, to help him serve the community.
“It was just right up my alley with healthy food and healthy lifestyle choices and community oriented,” Wood said. “This was kind of a great way to work in the community more. I love our Roseburg downtown and it sounded like a great opportunity to revamp one section of it.”
Wood said when they first started the project, she and a team made a list of all the food options in the store and she was so impressed at the range and amount of options he had in the store.”
He has owned the store for about four years and wanted it to be a clean, healthier space when he started, but community pressure lead him to make changes he didn’t want, like stocking cigarettes, unlike at his other markets in town.
“Every customer has a different choice. When people pressure you, ‘hey, where do you keep this? I need this stuff too, if you have this in your store, I’ll buy it,’” Singh said. “When you have fresh healthy food out front, people look at it, that’s (Blue Zones Project’s) design. My sales are going up, we are already seeing that. People comment every day, all day long”
The Blue Zones Project conducted a survey of customers to the market, local business owners and nearby residents about what they wanted to see in the market. The survey is not complete yet, but the project’s Organization Lead John Dimof said the results will give Singh more data to use in designing his store layout.
“People feel like they don’t have ready access to what they want and the appearance and the environment of the store affects their ability to shop there,” Dimof said. “You can better serve your customers and their health and well-being by allowing these healthier choices to be more available and accessible. The nice thing is a store like that has the authority to make those choices.”
The in-store survey asked people what they bought, how likely they would be to buy fruits and vegetables or healthy snacks and groceries and what healthy items they would like the store to carry.
“Some of the changes we might make based on the survey responses is how the store is arranged so the healthier options are more prominent,” Wood said. “We know that the first thing a person sees in a store or in a cafeteria line tend to be the first things they choose or go for so if we arrange the store in such a way that those things are more obvious, it might encourage that change that people choose them.”
She also hopes to maybe take down some of beer and cigarette signage and put up Blue Zones Project signs.
She will also look at the specific food options requested in the surveys and see if bringing them into the store will be possible. The surveys will be reviewed at a meeting on April 4.
Singh said he’s happy with the changes and sees potential for more as the community asks for it.
“I’m very happy with what we’re doing and working with the community,” Singh said. “We will do more changes too, more meat, more vegetables.”