The Roaming Grocer

Fall 2021 MA in Design focused in Health Design Project.

Nina Lemieux, Divya Jain, Nikhil Mahadevan, Ashlyn Anthony, Daphne Hancock

My Roles: Interviewee Recruiter, Secondary Researcher, Design Researcher, Group Prototyping

The Problem

Food deserts are geographical areas in which residents don’t have easy access to grocery stores for fresh foods. Travis County, which encompasses Austin, is home to 33 food deserts. Living in a food desert substantially increases one’s risk of experiencing food insecurity, also known as hunger, or the disruption of eating patterns because of lack of money or other resources. Data from 2015 estimates that more than 200,000 of our Travis County neighbors experience food insecurity. Food insecurity is a critical health issue, as it is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

To assist people facing food insecurity, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers a federal aid program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides benefits distributed by individual states. SNAP benefits are often referred to as “food stamps.”


To start, we collected secondary research on food insecurity in Travis County. After that we utilized a 2×2 grid to prioritize what more we hoped to learn and generated specific interview questions.

A Few Interview Questions

  • What does a typical day look like for you?
  • Where do you get your food? How do you travel there?
  • Which kinds of technology do you have access to? How does that impact your ability to get food and/or care for yourself?
  • What does health mean to you?
  • Tell me a story about the first time you [used a food bank, or other resource they have used]
  • How do you typically use your SNAP benefits? (if using SNAP)

Interview Process

We were able to conduct two interviews with organization executives and three interviews with individuals who use Good Apple, an Austin-based produce delivery service that provides fresh produce from local farms to families and individuals who need help getting fresh produce. All of our interviewees happened to be single women with one or more chronic health conditions. They lived in affordable housing communities and had at least a moderate knowledge of local food resources.

In this time period, Daphne and I volunteered with Good Apple doing produce deliveries. This gave us insight into the living situations of the individuals we were designing for, the types and quantity of produce Good Apple offered.

Synthesis and Sensemaking

First, we built a composite journey map and empathy map from the interviews we had conducted. With our data organized, we placed key quotes from our interviews on a pseudo-journey map focused on three aspects of food insecurity.

Once we were able to see our research at a higher level, a few clear needs began to emerge. Each of our interview participants had their own story, but affordable foods, accessible locations, and the ability to choose food that fit their unique needs were important factors to each of them.


  • “Healthier meals tend to be more pricey.”
  • “I wish I could buy prepared foods like rotisserie chicken [with SNAP].”

Diet Choice

  • “They [Good Apple] gave me kale a few times… but I don’t really know what to do with kale so I gave it to my neighbor.”
  • “I’m diabetic, I don’t know how much food I can accept [from food pantries].”
  • “I am not inclined to sign up for food assistance like Keep Austin Fed because I’m not sure if it will meet my dietary needs.”


  • “Because of my surgery, I cannot take the bus to get food.”
  • “I have to set my paratransit ride a day before, I can’t just go to HEB whenever I want.”

Combining these insights, we stated the following desired outcome for our interviewees:

"For me, a food service is successful when it reduces the time it takes to find and obtain food that lowers my burden of chronic disease and fits my budget."



Next, our group brainstormed ideas based on our outcome statement. Our ideation focused on addressing the three main aspects of food insecurity uncovered during our research phase, namely: affordability, diet choice, and accessibility. We also wanted to make sure our ideas addressed gaps in current food services.

The team brainstormed a number of possible solutions. For example, a program that encourages and supports building at-home gardens or a standalone store that would offer meal kits filled with only SNAP-eligible items. We also considered community gardens and how produce might be distributed to individuals who volunteered. However, none of these ideas addressed all of our research insights.

Instead, we took pieces of each idea and incorporated them into what we chose to prototype: a mobile farmer’s market food truck. We called our idea:

“The Roaming Grocer.”

Business Model

How would the Roaming Grocer be sustainable and affordable? The main program that we drew inspiration from was Double Up Food Bucks. Double Up Food Bucks is a program introduced by the USDA and private funder partners that allows people using SNAP to double their SNAP benefits when used at qualifying farmers’ markets. This program increases the accessibility of fresh, whole foods from local farmers and effectively doubles how many fruits and vegetables a family can bring home. We modeled The Roaming Grocer with this program in mind.

How would the Roaming Grocer be accessible? The truck would move to different locations throughout the week, stopping in neighborhoods, church parking lots, or local parks in zip codes categorized as food deserts. In each area, we would also offer delivery in a one mile radius of the stop at the end of the day. This feature was important as ⅔ of our interviewees cannot travel easily due to chronic and acute conditions.

One feature we prototyped was recipe cards, where community members could submit a recipe featuring fresh produce and each week a winner would be selected. This winner would get $20 credit at The Roaming Grocer. Later, we would then use that recipe for meal kits that contain all the necessary ingredients, with the fruits and vegetables specifically qualifying for Double Up Food Bucks.


At this point, we had put a lot of thought and care into our concept. We wanted to test the idea with the community that gave it to us, but we were far from building partnerships with farmers or being able to afford a truck. We decided to solicit feedback with a low-fidelity paper and cardboard prototype of the service we wanted to implement.

Experience 1:

Our first interviewee and his son resonated with the need for more access to farmers market food that qualifies for Double Up Food Bucks. They also commented that they enjoy going to the farmer’s market, but there is never any parking or the parking is unaffordable ($10+), so a neighborhood truck would be better.

Experience 2:

The second interviewee was most excited about the community aspect. He wanted the truck to stand out as something the community would be excited to see come down their block. He also commented that visual appeal would be very important; the van should make you want to post on Instagram.

Experience 3:

Our third interviewee commented that he would like the option to walk to the farmer’s market truck. However, if it was across town he would still go if he could access fresh, local produce on weekdays because all the farmer’s markets are on the weekend and he often works Saturday and Sunday.

Additional Insights:

With all our interviewees, the meal kit option was a hit. Even with an emphasis on individual choice, our interviews helped clarify that sometimes the best option is not having to think too much about what you’ll be making for dinner. This is a unique opportunity for our food truck as most pre-made meals are not SNAP-eligible. Our proposed meal kit addresses this insight while maintaining SNAP-eligibility by providing ingredients intended for home preparation.

Future Directions

If we chose to continue this project, we would propose two possible directions. The first would rely on grant funding from organizations and institutions such as The Cullen Foundation, Glimmer Austin, Wells Fargo, or The Moody Foundation. These organizations have grant programs that could apply to a mobile, double up grocery truck. One option for securing the truck itself would be to purchase one directly from an organization specializing in mobile grocery trucks, such as The Farmer’s Truck.

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