Virtual Supermarket Programme – Baltimore, USA

Key Insights

  • Partnership between health department and grocery store chain
  • Helping senior citizens order groceries online
  • Overcoming food access and transportation issues


Almost 18,000 elderly Baltimore residents live in ‘Healthy Food Priority Areas’ with poor access to healthy, affordable food. In 2010 Baltimore City Health Department teamed up with Klein’s Family Markets to launch the Virtual Supermarket Program, which enables people with mobility and transport issues to order groceries online at 14 neighbourhood locations (public libraries, schools and senior homes). Assistance is available for those lacking computer literacy, and delivery charges are waived. In the first six years of the programme 8,200 grocery orders were made by over 900 customers, with user numbers increasing over time.


This case study version is from the Menu of Actions (2019). Suggested citation: Halliday, J., Platenkamp, L., Nicolarea, Y. (2019) A menu of actions to shape urban food systems for improved nutrition, GAIN, MUFPP and RUAF.

Ordering groceries online, Shutterstock/Andrea Izzotti

The action and its aims

Baltimore’s Virtual Supermarket Programme is a network of 14 public libraries, schools, and senior homes where people can order groceries online, if necessary with the assistance of trained Neighborhood Food Advocates. The groceries are delivered to the centres with no delivery fee. The aim is to ensure elderly citizens can access healthy food, no matter where they live, their transport situation, or their level of computer literacy.

When it was introduced

The programme was launched in 2010 and was the first online service in the US to accept Food Stamps (now known as SNAP benefits since the federal programme was re-named the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme).

Why it was needed

It was needed because almost a quarter of Baltimoreans live in areas of the city that lack access to affordable, healthy food. These areas, known as ‘healthy food priority areas’, are home to almost 18,000 senior citizens, who are more likely to have mobility and transport issues than younger people.

Who initiated it, who is involved

The Virtual Supermarket Program is a partnership between Baltimore City Health Department and Klein’s Family Markets, which owns the ShopRite chain of stores. It is funded by federal grants and foundations; initial funding of USD60,000 came from the 2009 federal stimulus package.

Impacts to date

Between March 2010 to July 2016, 8,200 grocery orders were made for over 900 unique customers. The number of users has increased over time. An evaluation by the University of Michigan found that it improved food purchasing behaviour and created a sense of community.

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Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Food System

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a significant number of interconnected objectives related to agriculture and food.

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