Progressives and people on the left often criticize dollar stores as contributing to so-called food deserts. Food deserts are parts of towns and rural areas where no large grocery stores want to operate. In addition, the presence of a dollar store supposedly makes an area less desirable for full-service grocers. The logic makes little sense to me: Dollar stores are supposedly bad because they’re not full-service grocers. Yet, full-service grocers don’t want to operate in food deserts because stores in the area are unprofitable but competition from dollar stores makes them even less profitable. What? As an aside, restricting competition in the name of aiding struggling stores is never a good idea. That is also true of certificate of need laws.
I used to live in an area of town with little retail development. There were literally no grocery stores on my way home from work. The nearest Kroger was three or four miles away from my house. A Dollar General opened a couple blocks away and it was great. If I ran out of milk, bread, coffee, eggs, bacon and other staples I could swing by on my way home from work if I didn’t feel like driving several miles to Kroger.
For years, Dollar General has faced criticism for exacerbating food deserts — neighborhoods and communities where consumers struggle to find affordable nutritious food, such as fruits and vegetables. As the retailer has rapidly opened more locations, some lawmakers have said it has scared off grocers that would bring a wider selection of healthy, fresh items.
If you talk to a progressive, they may throw out terms like predatory, as though the stores prey on poor people rather than provide needed services. Like I said, dollar stores tend to open in food deserts where there are no grocery options other than convenience stores and gas stations. Dollar stores are not just located in food deserts, they are also often in health deserts. Dollar General is expanding into health care because it sees a need it may be able to fill. The CEO of Dollar General had this to say:
Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos said Wednesday that the retailer is chasing business opportunities in health care for a simple reason: About 65% of the company’s stores are located in “health deserts.”
That translates to more than 10,000 stores — including many in rural areas and small towns — where customers must drive long distances to get medical care, Vasos said.
He said the retailer is in a prime position to change that.
In preparation for a move into health care Dollar General began adding more health care items to its inventory. I wrote about consumerism in health care years ago and noted that I found pregnancy tests at a dollar store for $1 apiece. That price was unheard of at the time and is still a bargain. Earlier this year Dollar General announced plans to open several mobile clinics in a pilot project in Tennessee.
The company is piloting mobile health clinics at three stores in Tennessee to provide customers with basic, preventive and urgent care services along with lab testing.
The discount retailer teamed up with DocGo, a provider of mobile health and transportation services, to provide the medical services, which are set up in large vans in store parking lots.
The two companies plan to evaluate customer response and determine the feasibility of expanding the mobile health clinic offering to additional stores, executives said in a press release. Customers can schedule appointments online or walk in without an appointment.
If this venture is successful (and I hope it is), I expect to read about how Dollar General is perpetuating health deserts, as its limited service, mobile clinics run off full service medical clinics and hospitals.
Operated as part of Dollar General’s DG Wellbeing brand, on-site clinicians can perform physicals and routine checkups, vaccinations, lab testing, diagnostics like EKGs, wound care and urgent care services along with chronic condition management for patients with hypertension, diabetes, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the website.
In the past few months, I’ve written about large retailers pursuing retail clinic strategies. CVS, Walgreen’s, Amazon, Walmart, Albertsons and numerous others are testing the waters. It surprises me that Dollar General is among them, and I will be interested in how this plays out.