Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (Mar 2021)

Application of free-listing in identifying desirable foods and their accessibility in an urban nonprofit supermarket

  • Kaitlyn Harper,
  • Emma Lewis,
  • Lisa Poirier,
  • Bengucan Gunen,
  • Antonio Trujillo,
  • Joel Gittelsohn

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 10, no. 2


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There is a gap in the literature regarding the specific methods used by supermarkets to engage community members in operations and decision-making processes. Free-listing is an engagement method that allows individuals to list all possible items associated with a particular topic or domain. This study explores the application of free-listing as a method to assess the availability and affordability of food items at DMG Foods, a nonprofit super­market in Baltimore, Maryland, to assist with mak­ing stocking decisions and increasing store use. Twenty residents in central northeast Baltimore participated in free-listing desirable foods and frequented supermarkets. All selected participants were over 18 years of age, Black, and regularly shopped in the central northeast region of Balti­more. We calculated the saliency of food items and stores based on an item’s frequency and order of mention in the free-listing. We then conducted store observations of the top salient stores three times at three-week intervals to identify the availa­bility and accessibility of the top salient food items. Fifteen items had saliency scores greater than 0.1 and were retained for observation. Five stores had saliency scores greater than 0.1 and were within a five-mile (8-km) radius from DMG Foods. Larger supermarkets carried the widest variety of salient items, and the prices of items varied between stores, highlighting the importance of community-driven stocking for smaller supermarkets. Free-listing is a simple engagement method that store managers with limited research experience can use to identify foods that are desirable to residents of the community, ultimately leading to improved community food environments and increased store success.