Critics call it 'food apartheid', but Ralphs says it varies what's on sale based on what customers buy.
Critics call it 'food apartheid', but Ralphs says it varies what's on sale based on what customers buy. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

The scheduled closure of a Ralphs grocery store, one of a chain of stores owned by the Kroger Company, has spurred accusations by some residents of South Los Angeles that the store has a history of abandoning low-income neighborhoods and fobbing off lower-quality products on them.

“We don’t believe in the concept of a food desert,” says Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of the South Los Angeles-based Community Coalition. “Deserts occur naturally. We believe in a food apartheid. Apartheid happens because people make decisions. Human beings decide that some people are going to get the best quality meats and best quality vegetables and that other people aren’t going to get anything at all.”

Ralph’s spokesperson Kendra Doyel denies the accusations and says the company uses shopper card data to determine which stores should carry particular products. 

“You don’t have a cookie-cutter Ralphs across all of Southern California,” Doyel says. “Different people want different things in different neighborhoods. And it varies not by high-end and low-end, but truly from neighborhood to neighborhood.” 

Shoppers in the parking lot of the Ralphs grocery store in South LA that’s set to close seem unconvinced.

“The prices are higher in our neighborhood,” says Leo Chapman, who says she believes lower-end products are sold in south Los Angeles.

“They know people don’t have money, so they bring less stuff,” says Maria Dimitriou, who was there to take advantage of last-minute sales. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

Recently, the USDA created a searchable map of the nation's food deserts. Here's a look at Los Angeles, green represents the city's food deserts.

 

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.