Feb 21, 2024 - Business

SNAP recipients can now shop at an online-only grocery store

An illustration of a bag of groceries covered by a giant cursor all against a yellow background.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios Visuals

SNAP recipients will soon be able to use their funds at an online-only grocery store for the first time.

Why it matters: Many in the SNAP program — commonly referred to as "food stamps" — live in food deserts where it's hard to find high-quality groceries near home.

What's happening: Thrive Market will begin accepting SNAP EBT payments from users across the contiguous U.S. on Feb. 26, the company says.

  • The move follows nearly a decade of advocating to the USDA (which oversees SNAP), and after various pilot programs involving retailers with mixed online and brick-and-mortar operations.

Catch up fast: Thrive, which launched in 2014, offers a variety of groceries for home delivery, from pantry staples to meat and frozen items — with a focus on healthy, high-quality goods.

  • Membership costs $60 annually, but SNAP recipients will be able to join for free.
  • The company has long offered no-cost "Thrive Gives" memberships to families in need.

What they're saying: More than a third of SNAP recipients are kids, Thrive Market co-founder and CEO Nick Green tells Axios, "so it's really serving a lot of families."

  • "And our mission from Day 1 has been to make healthy living accessible to anyone."

Between the lines: While the "digital divide" persists, the vast majority of low-income Americans now have some form of internet access — often through a smartphone — making online grocery delivery more feasible, Green says.

Yes, but: "One challenge that we do have with people that are really struggling is that they may not have a stable address," Green adds.

  • "We have served some of those populations by working with nonprofits, at shelters and food shelf-type programs they can access."

Reality check: Lower-income customers don't shop on Thrive with the same frequency as paid members, Green notes — a trend he expects to continue with SNAP recipients, given their limited monthly budget.

What's next: SNAP aside, Green teased an effort to "fully reimagine" online grocery shopping through the latest AI assistant and machine learning technology, which could better predict what people want in their carts.

  • "Our average order value is over $90. It's got more than 14 items, and that takes 20 to 30 minutes on average for someone to build. We're looking to cut that in half and just radically simplify the process."

The bottom line: Accepting SNAP is "a business opportunity" in line with the certified B Corp's social mission, Green says.

  • "These members, even if they're not paying for the membership, they're still purchasing products. So this is a legitimate form of payment that will drive revenue for our business. This is one of many areas where doing right by the mission is also great for business."
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