The Social and Economic Impacts of California FreshWorks

PCV InSightImpact Investing, InSight


Lack of access to fresh, healthy food is a pressing issue for the 18 million Americans who live in food deserts. In California alone, nearly 1 million residents, 45 percent of whom are low-income, live in areas without supermarkets or large grocery stores nearby. In addition to providing access to healthy food, grocery stores and healthy food retailers also represent important economic drivers that create much-needed jobs and generate economic activity for local communities and local governments.

Launched in July 2011 by a broad coalition of public and private partners led by the California Endowment, the $273 million California FreshWorks program provides loans and grants to grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and other food retailers that offer nutritious, affordable food options in communities where such options are scarce.

In order to better understand the California FreshWorks program’s food access, social, and economic impact to date, the California Endowment commissioned the first-ever third-party evaluation of the program. The evaluation also sought to document key challenges and lessons from the development and implementation of FreshWorks. The evaluation was conducted by a team of experts that included, PCV InSight, the Sarah Samuels Center for Public Health Research, Dr. Allison Karpyn of the University of Delaware, and Dr. Karen Glanz of the University of Pennsylvania. We are excited to share the results of our three years of evaluation with three reports:

California FreshWorks: A Case Study Examining the Development and Implementation of FreshWorks

Download (PDF, 1.06MB)

The Social and Economic Impacts of FreshWorks: An Examination of Three Northgate González Grocery Store Investments

Download (PDF, 2.48MB)

California FreshWorks Food Access Report: An Examination of Three Northgate González Grocery Store Investments

Download (PDF, 986KB)

Over the past five years, FreshWorks has produced significant social impact, developing 435,000 square feet of healthy food retail space and increasing access to fresh food for over 800,000 people across the state. FreshWorks has also been successful in supporting job creation in low-income communities and catalyzing innovative models for increasing access to healthy food. Notably, FreshWorks has demonstrated that mainstream, private investors can support initiatives that address lack of access to fresh, healthy food.

FreshWorks is an early example of a state-level healthy food financing initiative, and our evaluation presents a valuable opportunity for investors, policymakers, researchers, and others to understand both the promising impacts and unique challenges of healthy food financing. Our evaluation of FreshWorks demonstrates PCV InSight’s commitment to supporting the impact investing community, including mission investors like the California Endowment. We believe that through our work, investors can better understand the impact of their investments, make data-driven decisions, and maximize their support of communities in need.

We hope that these three reports will not only spur important conversations in the field, but also serve as a practical resource for those implementing healthy food initiatives on the ground. As the body of knowledge supporting healthy food financing grows, we hope more will engage in bringing fresh, healthy, affordable food to those who need it most.