NJEDA approves FRIDG program to fight food insecurity and combat food deserts

Subsidies to adopt new grocery delivery models to aid food desert community residents

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority approved $2.5 million to be allocated to the Food Retail Innovation in Delivery Grant, or FRIDG, program that will strengthen food security in the state’s 50 Food Desert Communities.

FRIDG will assist in the purchase and installation of temperature-controlled lockers to expand food delivery options and improve food access for Food Desert Community residents — a staggering 1.5 million New Jersey residents across a diverse range of communities in all 21 counties. The grant program will also provide last-mile solutions that help FDC residents tap into online grocery shopping with delivery to a convenient location in their community.

Food retailers with at least one physical location in New Jersey can apply for up to $250,000 in funding to purchase and install self-contained, temperature-controlled lockers in one of New Jersey’s 50 designated FDCs. These companies must be authorized to accept online orders paid with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“The FRIDG program will build upon Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s vision and the work being done to uplift those in the state’s targeted Food Desert Communities,” NJEDA CEO Tim Sullivan said. “People should be able to benefit from the advancements in grocery delivery and access nutritious food regardless of their ZIP code. With this new program, we will make New Jersey a leader in pioneering a new approach to food access in partnership with food retailers.”

The funding for FRIDG has been appropriated through the Fiscal Year 2022 state budget and is aligned with Murphy’s commitment to combating food insecurity. NJEDA is also currently seeking public feedback on the Food Desert Relief Tax Credit Program, which aims to support the development and initial operations of new supermarkets and grocery stores in FDCs.

“The creation of crucial resources and programs, such as the FRIDG program, plays an important role in our work to stem food insecurity in households across New Jersey,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) said. “This program will help bridge the gap in access to balanced, nutritional meals for working families living in Food Desert Communities in our state, building on our efforts to put food on the table of all New Jerseyans. Meeting the most basic needs of our residents must be our priority, and the FRIDG program helps us accomplish this by building on our existing hunger-fighting initiatives.”

In 2020, the New Jersey Department of Human Services launched a pilot program to allow SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase groceries online. This aligns with the broader growth in online grocery ordering, which now accounts for almost 10% of all grocery sales nationwide and is projected to surpass 20% by 2026. New Jersey SNAP recipients, which as of September 2022 totaled 789,276 New Jersey residents, can now purchase groceries online from 16 retailers. Many FDC residents remain unable to receive groceries, as they lack a reliable delivery location due to unpredictable work schedules, family obligations or housing insecurity. The FRIDG lockers are intended to provide FDC residents with a safe, convenient location where their grocery orders — including fresh produce and dairy — will stay fresh until they are retrieved at a convenient time.

Retailers must submit an application detailing their plan to purchase these lockers before actually buying one. The FRIDG grants will cover at least 30% of the initial costs, including the installation, which is subject to the state’s prevailing wages and affirmative action laws for installation costs above $2,000.

Applicants may increase their grant award through bonuses to cover up to 50% of the project costs for commitments such as waiving delivery fees (including for SNAP recipients) and partnering with community-based organizations to host the lockers. The lockers must be installed in public places with easy general access to the public to allow residents to easily access to groceries.

The application fee is $1,000. Retailers can apply for multiple grants, providing they offer one locker unit per FDC and do not try to install one in an FDC that has already received approval.

The application window will be open for 18 months from the start date or until the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first. This is not a competitive application process, and all candidates will be evaluated separately as applications are received. Upon approval, grantees will have 12 months to install the lockers, with up to two six-month extensions available, pending authority approval.