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Column: Target’s dynamic pricing feeds the food desert fire

UNC students know the Franklin Street Target all too well. The storefront is hard to miss and hard to avoid, being the only grocery store in the walkable vicinity. 

The store is full of school supplies, personal hygiene products and UNC merchandise. You can also find a small section of produce and shelf-stable foods. The fresh fruit and vegetables are often sparse depending on what day of the week you go. Your only option for greens may be one lonely pack of spring mix tossed on its side. 

Not only is Target’s produce section not well-stocked, but it often feels like you’re spending twice as much for a couple of apples than you would at another store. 

This is because of Target’s “dynamic pricing,” where retailers can adjust prices due to a store's location, time of day or an item's projected profit over time.

For example, a Honeycrisp apple at the Franklin Street location is $2.39 compared to the $1.99 price tag seven miles down the road in Durham. 

Even toothpaste is more expensive. The same Colgate tube is $7.69 on Franklin Street and $5.99 in Durham.

All of this is to say that products popular to college students may be priced higher than a store just 15 minutes down the road, as there is nearly nowhere else to get these essentials within walking distance, especially with the CVS closing in 2022

Dynamic pricing is not unique to Target on Franklin, but it can affect all retailers. Shoppers who are not aware of this will end up paying more solely based on where they are physically located. 

Stores like Target do this to maximize revenue, but dynamic pricing is predatory in almost every sense. Marking up essential items takes advantage of communities that do not have time to price match or commute to a discount grocery store. 

There is another layer of disdain added when you consider the implications of this in a college town, where many students do not have the transportation, time or ability to commute. 

The Target's location is also inconvenient to those who live on South Campus — over a fifth of our undergraduate population. A first-year living in Hinton James would have to walk for about 30 minutes to cover the 1.4-mile distance between their dorm and the grocery store, only to have to walk back after they have finished shopping. 

Riding the bus is another option but may take a similar amount of time, accounting for bus stops and waiting time. 

The only other option first-years and those living on South Campus have is Rams Market, which offers a small selection of chips and snacks but very little fresh food aside from the Subway located inside. Additionally, small campus convenience stores like Rams Market and The Pit Stop do not offer many options that accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences. 

Beyond this, students have to go out of their way due to the lack of food available within walking distance. Several students who do not have access to cars on campus will take the bus to grocery stores like Food Lion and Trader Joe's, both of which are about four miles away from the center of campus.

The lack of healthy food available on and near UNC’s campus makes it evident that we have a food desert. Not allowing students to have healthy and affordable options to choose from has long-term implications for health and well-being. Food deserts can contribute to lack of variety in diets, and when you're surrounded by restaurants, it can break the bank.  

Of course, UNC dining halls offer an array of foods daily and have set criteria for food options they must uphold. But you will struggle to find something healthy, vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free. 

Meal plans can also be expensive — with the cheapest meal plan coming in at $1,690 and the unlimited plan, which accounts for three meals a day and snacks, setting you back $2,825. 

Perhaps there will be some future where Chapel Hill allows for more grocery options on Franklin. But, in the meanwhile, there are some ways we can make the most of what we have. 

Benefit more from your meal plan by getting or bringing a to-go container when heading to dining halls. You can also carpool with other students to grocery stores to restock essentials.

Stay vigilant. Even though Franklin Target prices are high, these stores all price match. This means that you can get a partial refund if you prove that the same item is listed at a lower price at another store (from the list of retailers they guarantee a price match with) using advertisements and screenshots. If you come to the register ready to negotiate better prices, they can’t turn you away. 


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@dthopinion |