An investment fund that provides start-up capital to grocery stores and food entrepreneurs is helping to finance the new Vallarta Supermarket in Fresno and a Merced company that connects farmers to local schools.
California FreshWorks, a public-private partnership that includes funding from the California Endowment and JP Morgan Chase, will be loaning Vallarta $6 million in New Market Tax Credit financing for the construction of its new central Fresno store.
The organization’s goal is to fund projects that will improve the access of fresh, healthy food in areas where the options are limited.
The new Vallarta store, at the southwest corner of Weber and Clinton avenues, will be the first full-service grocery store to open in the neighborhood in 15 years, FreshWorks officials said.
The Southern California-based Vallarta has 47 stores throughout California, including two in Fresno. The store is known for its produce department, freshly made tortillas, in-house restaurant and a wide variety of grocery items.
The 45,000-square-foot store is under construction and is expected to be completed by November of 2016. It will also create nearly 200 jobs.
Also receiving a low-interest loan is AgLink of Merced, a company that helps local schools source fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers. It will use $657,000 to build a new warehouse, cold storage, buy a delivery truck and provide additional operating capital.
Launched in 2011, FreshWorks has issued loans and grants totaling $58 million from 2011 and 2015, according to a recent report.
A recent evaluation found that through FreshWorks, more than 1,900 jobs were retained or created. In Southern California, FreshWorks provided funding for a small regional chain, Northgate González Markets. The investment helped create 450 new jobs and $42 million in economic impact.
“This evaluation shows that communities – regardless of income level – are hungry for fresh, affordable food,” said Marion Standish, vice president of enterprise programs at The California Endowment. “Increasing access to quality retail food is more than good business, it is also essential for improving health in communities that are disproportionately affected by preventable chronic diseases, such as diabetes and obesity.”
Standish hopes that the FreshWorks loans to Vallarta and AgLink will be the first of many in the San Joaquin Valley, an area with a critical need for more grocery stores and access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We are very interested in innovative concepts, like food hubs or food aggregaters,” Standish said. “They are helping to fill a need for healthy and fresh food and we support that.”
The California Endowment that has committed $30 million to FreshWorks also announced Wednesday that Northern California Community Loan Fund will be the agency’s program manager.