Recognizing that food insecurity stems from a number of factors, including lack of income and transportation or mobility barriers, and that poor diet correlates directly with increases in diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, Instacart is focusing its efforts on three areas. where she believes she can make the biggest difference: food security, easier choices for healthier choices, and food as medicine.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, Sara Mastrorocco, vice president and general manager of Instacart Health, shares how the company is building on its strong foundation in food access and nutrition to improve food security and help reversing the damage it can cause and lower US health care costs, 85% of which go to diet-related chronic diseases.
[Editor’s note: Never miss another episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast – subscribe today.]
Instacart offers more than convenience
Many Americans used or became familiar with Instacart during the pandemic, when they turned to the grocery tech company to access the food they need and love from its 1,400 banner retail partners with 80,000 stores , while sheltering at home. Today, millions of consumers continue to rely on Instacart, whose mission is to create a world where people have access to the food they love and more time to enjoy it together.
But as Mastrorocco explains, Instacart offers more than convenient food delivery — it also offers tools to help Americans build healthier habits, stretch their grocery budgets and improve food security.
“More than two years ago, I started exploring how we could use our platform at Instacart to help because we know that food and nutrition are deeply intertwined. Today’s data tells quite an alarming story, doesn’t it? … One hundred million Americans in the US suffer from a diet-related disease, and it is estimated that 85% of US health care costs come from the treatment of these chronic diseases. So to me it really tells the story of people who are suffering and food can be the answer.”Mastrorocco said.
“For us there is a clear call to action. Instacart can play a role, and so we decided to come in and say, “Hey, we can be an infrastructure for food as medicine. Let’s use our great network to help us bring trusted stores and brand and fresh products to the people who need them,” she added.
From that foundation came the idea for Instacart Health, an initiative launched last fall that builds on the company’s foundation in food and nutrition access and layers in research, policy advocacy and product innovation through key partnerships.
First pillar: Improving food security
The first pillar focuses on improving food security by increasing equitable access to healthy food—a goal that, according to Mastrorocco, is about physical access but also affordability.
“There are many ways in which [enable access]. The first is the mobility challenges – getting it to your door from the stores,” Mastrorocco said. “But it’s not just that access. I also see payments. So how can I pay with funds available to me.
To address the second part, Mastrorocco said, Instacart became the first online marketplace to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits online in all 50 states in Washington, D.C., and continues to expand Instacart locations that accept SNAP.
“It really helps stretch the dollar. Consider accessing stores on Instacart that may have lower prices and a better selection than the prices at stores near your home.”she said.
Instacart also offers a scholarship program called Fresh Funds that the healthcare industry and nonprofits can use, and it recently announced partnerships with Medicare Advantage.
In addition to improving access to healthy eating, Instacart educates and inspires consumers to make healthy choices. For example, he teamed up with No Kid Hungry and the University of Kentucky to offer nutrition education to SNAP recipients and found that doing so recipients spent nearly $7 more on produce per week, but kept their overall budget the same.
Instacart also acts as an intermediary between brands and healthcare providers to improve access to nutrition, such as partnering with Lean Cuisine and the Cleveland Clinic to deliver medically personalized meals to consumers through a pilot program.
Under this first pillar, Instacart is also working with the Partnership for a Healthier America to provide 10 million servings of produce to food-insecure families in the US over the next three years as part of PHA’s Good Food For All program.
Pillar Two: Make the healthy choice the easy choice
The second pillar of Instacart Health is to make healthy choices the easy choice by providing tools to guide and simplify healthy grocery shopping.
“Our pillar of easy healthy choices is about recipes and lists and being able to prescribe groceries on Instacart,” Mastrorocco said.
For example, the company offers Care Carts, where nutrition coaches can send groceries via Instacart to recipients. In addition, virtual storefronts, like those in the recently published study with insurer Kaiser Permanente, are designed to help people with diet-related chronic diseases make healthier choices and are tied to a stipend. Healthcare providers can also compile lists of prescribed foods that recipients can shop for on Instacart.
Third pillar: Facilitating food as medicine
The third strand of Instacart Health centers on offering advanced tools for personalized health and collaborative care in the form of food as medicine, a concept that Mastrorocco says is reaching a tipping point following last week’s announcement that Tufts University is launching The Food is Medicine Institute at the school Friedman on nutrition science and policy.
“It’s not Instacart’s job to decide [on a] nutritional formulary,” or the types of foods that will be covered by insurers, “but our job is to be the infrastructure—to make sure we can get [food to beneficiaries]Mastrorocco said.
Instacart also supports research into the power of food as medicine and has partnered with The Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association on this front.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Instacart, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Heart Association are working together and with other partners to innovate, test, and expand food as medicine in the U.S., I encourage you to sign up for an upcoming virtual edition of FoodNavigator-USA summit, which airs November 14-16. It’s a three-day event, including a food-as-medicine day, where Instacart, The Rockefeller Foundation, the American Heart Association and Alameda County Recipe4Health will panel discuss the extent and impact of poor nutrition on health and initiatives to scale the food-as-medicine movement in USA. You can learn more by visiting foodnavigatorusasummit.com.
For brands or retailers interested in working with Instacart to explore food as the medicine movement could create business opportunities for them, Mastrorocco says Instacart loves to innovate and is eager to collaborate.