According to Food & Wine magazine, America's best grocery stores — the places where the meat is farm-raised and the vegetables are organic, all for a fair price — include Whole Foods ($NASDAQ:AMZN), Trader Joe's ($TRADERJOES), and Wegman's ($PRIV_WEGMANS).

Easy access to affordable, nutritious food can mean the difference between healthy, learning kids and cranky, distracted kids. It can turn into the difference between a healthy middle age and one addled by diabetes and heart disease.

According to a 2010 survey by the United States Department of Agriculture, 23.5 million Americans live in "food deserts", meaning they live more than one mile from a supermarket in urban areas or more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas. Food deserts tend to be in lower-income areas, which, sadly, makes them less attractive to companies like Trader Joes, Wegman's, and Amazon's Whole Foods.

We took a look at store outlays for these three purveyors of healthy food and correlated them with income data from the United States Census Bureau in order to get a better visualization of what our food deserts look like.

Trader Joe's is often considered the most affordable of the "affordable, nutritious" grocery stores. Across its more-than 500 stores in the United States, the median income level of nearby customers is $63,570. That's more than twice the $31,099 American median income. Trader Joe's likes people with high incomes. The top-10 cities in which the chain operates include some of America's richest cities:

City

State

Trader Joe’s Locations

Los Angeles

CA

11

San Diego

CA

8

New York

NY

7

Seattle

WA

6

San Francisco

CA

6

Chicago

IL

5

Dallas

TX

5

Pasadena

CA

5

Washington

DC

4

Long Beach

CA

4

Whole Foods got its start as a purveyor of expensive, organic items in Austin, Texas. It's now owned by Amazon and operated more than 500 stores throughout North America. Across those stores' locations, the median income of local residents is $63,470. The chain's top cities include Chicago, New York, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

City

State

Whole Foods Locations

Chicago

IL

13

New York

NY

10

Houston

TX

9

Los Angeles

CA

7

San Francisco

CA

7

Atlanta

GA

7

Seattle

WA

6

Washington

DC

6

Denver

CO

5

Santa Monica

CA

5

Wegman's, deemed the "Best Supermarket in America" by Food & Wine, has a cult-like, up-market following. It recently opened its first store in rapidly-gentrifying Brooklyn to an almost-disturbing level of anticipation and fanfare. Today, there are 101 Wegmans, still mostly in the northeast, and they cater to a populace that makes a median income of $53,850. The chain stays close to home, with Rochester, NY its most common city by far. To be fair to Wegmans, the median income in Rochester is $32,347 making it the lone standout when it comes to breaking the mold of the food desert.

City

State

Wegman’s Locations

Rochester

NEW YORK

11

Liverpool

NEW YORK

3

Fairport

NEW YORK

2

Depew

NEW YORK

2

Amherst

NEW YORK

2

Woodbridge

NEW YORK

2

Buffalo

NEW YORK

2

Webster

NEW YORK

2

Amherst

NEW YORK

2

Williamsville

NEW YORK

2

Food deserts make it hard for people living in poverty — or in areas not considered lucrative by either grocery chains or logistics operators — to find their way out of the vicious cycle of malnutrition. And now with the Coronavirus pandemic putting the squeeze on supply chains, things are even worse for those who already had trouble accessing affordable, nutritious food. According to Urban Footprint, the number of residents living in "food insecure" areas grew by 69% during the pandemic in Georgia alone. In Kentucky, that number grew a distressing 118%. 

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.