Supporting Wellness at Pantries (SWAP): changes to inventory in six food pantries over one year



The aim of the Supporting Wellness at Pantries (SWAP) system is to rank, label, and organize food pantry items according to whether they should be consumed often (green), sometimes (yellow), or rarely (red), using a stoplight system in accordance with the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This study assessed the nutritional quality of inventory available at six food pantries before and after implementing SWAP. The hypothesis was that the intervention would encourage efforts to procure healthier foods.


Six food pantries participated in the study. At baseline, the inventory was assessed over 4 weeks in the summer of 2016. The percentage of red, yellow, and green foods was calculated by food category. The intervention was implemented from October 2016 to June 2017. The follow-up inventory assessment occurred during 4 weeks in the summer of 2017. Multivariate regression analyses were performed to assess whether the nutritional quality of food pantry inventory (measured by SWAP rank) improved post-intervention, adjusting for time trends and food category fixed effects.


Results revealed that post-intervention, the average weekly pantry inventory contained 28.35 (p = .037) more pounds of green food in each food category. There were no significant changes in the pounds of yellow (β = 13.77, p = .31) or red (β = −2.89, p = .78) food available.


One year post-intervention, the nutritional quality of food pantry inventories improved. These findings support continued structural changes to promote healthy food access to people experiencing food insecurity.

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The authors appreciate the willingness of the staff and volunteers at the six pilot food pantries to try this new stoplight system, and to provide their feedback and suggestions for improving the system. The authors thank additional members of the research team, including Kate Callahan, Megan Casey, and Joanna Keyes, who helped collect the inventory data.


Generous funding for the development of the SWAP system was provided by the Connecticut Department of Public Health SNAP-Ed: Preschool, Families, and Community Project, and the Johns Hopkins Global Obesity Prevention Center. Generous funding for the pilot test of the SWAP system was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Correspondence to Kristen Cooksey Stowers.

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All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975 and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.

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Stowers, K.C., Martin, K.S., Read, M. et al. Supporting Wellness at Pantries (SWAP): changes to inventory in six food pantries over one year. J Public Health (Berl.) (2020).

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  • Food pantry
  • Food insecurity
  • Nutrition rating system
  • Community-engaged research
  • Behavioral economics strategies