BackgroundMany lower-income and racially diverse communities in the U.S. have limited access to healthy foods, with few supermarkets and many small convenience stores, which tend to stock limited quantities and varieties of healthy foods. To address food access, in 2015 the Minneapolis Staple Foods Ordinance became the first policy requiring food stores to stock minimum quantities and varieties of 10 categories of healthy foods/beverages, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other staples, through licensing. This study examined whether: (a) stores complied, (b) overall healthfulness of store environments improved, (c) healthy customer purchases increased, and (d) healthfulness of home food environments improved among frequent small store shoppers.MethodsData for this natural (or quasi) experiment were collected at four times: pre-policy (2014), implementation only (no enforcement, 2015), enforcement initiation (2016) and continued monitoring (2017). In-person store assessments were conducted to evaluate food availability, price, quality, marketing and placement in randomly sampled food retailers in Minneapolis (n = 84) and compared to those in a nearby control city, St. Paul, Minnesota (n = 71). Stores were excluded that were: supermarkets, authorized through WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), and specialty stores (e.g., spice shops). Customer intercept interviews were conducted with 3,039 customers exiting stores. Home visits, including administration of home food inventories, were conducted with a sub-sample of frequent shoppers (n = 88).ResultsOverall, findings indicated significant improvements in healthy food offerings by retailers over time in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, with no significant differences in change between the two cities. Compliance was low; in 2017 only 10% of Minneapolis retailers in the sample were fully compliant, and 51% of participating Minneapolis retailers met at least 8 of the 10 required standards. Few changes were observed in the healthfulness of customer purchases or the healthfulness of home food environments among frequent shoppers, and changes were not different between cities.ConclusionsThis study is the first evaluation a local staple foods ordinance in the U.S. and reflects the challenges and time required for implementing such policies.Trial registrationNCT02774330.