UPDATE: Feb. 16, 2021: Food Lion plans to expand SNAP online purchasing through Instacart to eight more states in the coming weeks, including Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The current rollout in North Carolina makes the offering available at more than 350 stores in the state, according to Instacart.
- Food Lion has started accepting online grocery orders for delivery or pickup from North Carolina shoppers enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to a press release issued Thursday by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
- The grocer is offering the service in partnership with Instacart, and the e-commerce provider will waive delivery or pickup fees on the first three orders North Carolina SNAP participants pay for with an electronic Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card through March 16.
- Food Lion is joining a growing group of supermarket chains that are giving SNAP recipients the option of purchasing groceries electronically.
The announcement that Food Lion will let customers who receive benefits through the federal nutrition-assistance program to make purchases online builds on an effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make it easier for SNAP consumers to purchase groceries.
The USDA launched a pilot to test SNAP e-commerce in 2019 and accelerated the effort when the pandemic began. Federal officials approved North Carolina’s application to join the program in April, putting it among the earliest states to become part of the initiative. The program now includes 47 states and the District of Columbia, although one state, Maine, has not yet moved ahead despite being approved to participate in the pilot, according to the USDA.
Food Lion, which is based in Salisbury, North Carolina, is the fifth grocer operating in the state to begin allowing SNAP customers to make online purchases. The other retailers include Aldi and the 25-store Carlie C’s chain, as well as Amazon and Walmart, which have been part of the USDA’s pilot since its inception.
Aldi has made particularly rapid progress in making e-commerce services available to shoppers who participate in SNAP. During the closing months of 2020, the grocer more than doubled the number of stores where delivery and pickup are options for those customers. Like Food Lion, Aldi is working with Instacart to offer online ordering to SNAP participants.
States and retailers need to make changes to the technology they use to handle EBT payments to allow SNAP participants to purchase groceries online using their benefits. In addition, retailers need to adjust their online ordering systems to handle coupons and enable refunds, and, if necessary, eliminate sales tax. They also need to make provisions to separate delivery fees from customer’s grocery costs because SNAP benefits cannot be used for those costs. Customers need to use a different form of payment, such as a debit or credit card, to cover the fees.
In announcing Food Lion’s addition to the program, North Carolina officials noted that online ordering can increase access to healthy foods and help people avoid contact with others during the pandemic by making it possible for people to shop for groceries without needing to visit a store. On Tuesday, a group of senators introduced legislation in Congress that would provide funds to create a universal online and app-based portal to let SNAP participants buy groceries online.