Local retailers look set to receive a major boost with the national rollout of the government's Healthy Start voucher scheme later this year.
The programme, which allows pregnant women and low income families to exchange vouchers for milk and healthy food, will be officially launched throughout the UK in November and will replace the existing Welfare Food Scheme.
Healthy Start has been up and running in Devon and Cornwall since last year and has proved popular with retailers. Under the old system 500 retailers were registered. However, this figure has almost doubled under the Healthy Start programme.
Public health minister Caroline Flint said: "I am very encouraged by the number of shopkeepers who have signed up to provide goods under the Healthy Start scheme, which gives mums-to-be and families greater opportunity to make healthier choices. It also shows the vital role that local shopkeepers can play in helping families in their local community to eat more healthily."
Healthy Start gives eligible consumers the chance to use vouchers to buy milk, fresh fruit and vegetables and infant formula, rather than just milk.
Retailers who sell any of the Healthy Start foods can apply to register as a Healthy Start food outlet. Those retailers interested in joining the scheme should go to www.hsru.co.uk, or call the national helpdesk on 08707 201 668.
Participating retailers will receive advice on which products can be sold under the scheme and will receive window stickers and point-of-sale material to promote themselves as a Healthy Start retailer.