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Rural grocery stores

Two women hold grocery boxes smiling in a warehouse. They have packed 14-day meal kits stacked in front of them.

Rural grocery stores: the heart of rural communities

Small-town grocery stores are the heart of rural communities, yet many struggle with competition from larger chain stores, a shrinking customer base, and changing customer demands for fresh produce and greater variety. The University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) support rural grocers affected by these issues through a number of resources and projects. We offer fresh produce handling guides for small retailers, information on how to work with farmers to sell locally grown produce, and in-store produce handling training and education. We also conduct research on innovative ways to help farmers sell local produce through rural grocers. These projects address needs identified in our 2015 and 2019 statewide Rural Grocery Survey and through our face-to-face conversations with rural grocery owners throughout Minnesota.

Minnesota rural grocery survey report 2019 - 2020

Rural grocery stores are anchor businesses in communities of 2,500 or fewer residents that provide a full range of fresh, frozen and shelf-stable foods. To gain a deeper understanding about this sector, RSDP worked with the UMN Center for Survey Research to conduct a statewide survey of rural grocers between May and October 2019. This survey was designed to better understand rural grocers’ business conditions. Some topics of the responses were store characteristics, competition, locally grown food, business motivations, collaborative relationships and infrastructure. 

Resources for the response to COVID-19

Fourteen day meal kits

The University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Family Development have worked with community partners to develop guidance on 14-day meal kits that can be deployed from rural grocery stores to community members who need to isolate themselves in the face of COVID-19. 

Rural grocery curbside pick-up and delivery

RSDP developed a new tip sheet that provides basic instructions for small-town grocery stores to include a curbside pickup and delivery model as communities respond to COVID-19.

Projects and resources


For more examples of our rural grocery work

Explore our projects
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