People are constantly walking in and out of the In-N-Out on Walrond Ave. and E. 51st St. and one of the first things that catches your eye inside is the Kanbe’s Markets’ cooler filled with a variety of fresh and bright-looking fruits and vegetables.
Kanbe’s Markets is a nonprofit with a mission to end food deserts in the Kansas City metro. To do this, they provide affordable and fresh food to neighborhoods facing food insecurity through partnerships with local corner stores.
“Before Kanbe’s was here, there just wasn’t anything good for you here, but water,” said Charles Strozier, an employee at the In-N-Out, which is traditionally a liquor store. “But since Kanbe’s has come in, a lot of people just come into the store for Kanbe’s food.”
The In-N-Out, located in a food desert, is the closest place to buy fresh produce for at least a mile. For those who don’t have access to transportation to a grocery store, many people resort to buying food from their nearest gas station or corner store, which most times lack healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables.
More than 15% of residents in the Kansas City metro do not have enough to eat, according to the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition. That number has increased due to the pandemic.
So far, Kanbe’s partners with 43 corner stores in the metro. As a result, they’ve provided food to more than 250,000 people. It’s something that Kanbe’s says hasn’t been done before.
“There have been similar models, most organizations will open their own storefront,” said Jamie Placht, a community engagement coordinator for Kanbe’s. “But nothing like this that partners with existing infrastructure in the community and gives the community the power of purchasing their own produce and becoming more self-sufficient.”
Placht said Strozier is a big supporter of Kanbe’s, not only because it’s providing healthy food to the neighborhood, but because it’s supporting the business.
“People will come in here just for Kanbe’s produce and we benefit from that as a business,” Strozier said. “I’ve seen the coolers in other stores and they’re empty.”
“We cook and need this food, especially in the hood,” he said. “The people who come here have grown to count on Kanbe’s.”
How it Works
Kanbe’s provides the cooler and fresh food to corner stores. It also sends its drivers who go to each of the locations daily, sometimes more, to restock and rotate the produce.
When a customer buys the produce, they pay for it at the register just like a regular purchase. Kanbe’s takes 70% and the store takes 30% of the profits.
Kanbe’s purchases food from wholesalers, the same ones grocery stores use, and also receives food donations and discounts. That’s how the organization is able to keep their prices so low – sometimes three to four times lower than grocery store prices.
Included in coolers are produce like apples, oranges, cucumbers, lemons, bags of clementines, cabbage, peppers and tomatoes.
Drivers pick up the food from the wholesaler or farm and then volunteers sort the food and only the best-looking produce will go on the cooler shelves at the corner stores. The rest will be used for composting or making meals, working to ensure no food is wasted.
Jay Jones, community engagement coordinator at Kanbe’s, started working for the organization as a driver in 2016 and says the drivers are one of the most important aspects of the organization.
“It was the ultimate experience,” he said. “As a driver, you get to see it all. You put the food out there and you’re in charge of the presentation. And you get to see people buy the food and respond to the prices.”
“I’ve never seen an ugly looking piece of produce in that cooler because they come every day and if there’s a bad one, they take it back and we deserve that,” said Strozier. “That’s unheard of.”
How the produce Kanbe’s is selling looks to the community is one of the most important aspects for them.
“We’ve asked what the community wants and we’ve heard that the community wants quality and presentation,” said Placht.
Antoinette Nickens, a customer at the In-N-Out said she regularly buys fruit at the corner store.
“They just looked so good and fresh,” she said, grabbing a bundle of bananas, which are four for a dollar. “That’s what made me want to pick them up.”
Kanbe’s is hoping to expand and reach more corner stores, as well as other infrastructure in the community. They’re hoping to bring coolers to local community centers and even pediatrics offices for families.
“This is a movement,” said Jones. “This is something we’re trying to help generations understand that healthy and affordable options are needed.”
Learn more about Kanbe’s Markets here.