Client Choice & Shopping Models

Why Choose Client Choice?

"Client choice" is a model of emergency food distribution that enables clients to select their own food, much like a grocery store. Unlike most pantries, which provide clients with fixed boxes or bags of food with no ability to select the items included, client choice pantries allow clients the ability to choose from a wide variety of foods, better enabling clients to meet their personal dietary needs.

The client choice model promotes:
  • Higher satisfaction with the food they are able to choose

  • Less waste and ultimately less cost of food provided

  • Greater opportunities for volunteer and clients to interact.

1. Encourage clients to “shop” to find the foods they need.

Things a Pantry Can Do

  • Create client choice/shopping style in the pantry.

  • Make signs or displays like a grocery store or farmers market.


  • Clients are less likely to throw out food.

  • Clients try new foods.

SNAP-Ed Can Help

  • Answer your questions about how to encourage client choice.

  • Provide signs/displays.

2. Market Healthy Options and Include “Healthy Nudges”

Things a Pantry Can Do

  • Display fresh fruits and vegetables where easy to see and reach.

  • Place fresh fruits and vegetables at the front of shopping area.

  • Post information by food items showing how to store, prepare, and cook.

  • Promote healthy items with bulletin boards, posters, and videos.

  • Hand out recipe cards.

  • Volunteers and/or staff can encourage healthy choices by explaining how to use the foods.


  • Maintains Client Choice.

  • Clients are more satisfied.

  • Clients are familiar with new foods.

  • Less food is wasted.

SNAP-Ed Can Help

  • Assess, place, and test item placement to determine what works best.

  • Provide recipe cards and food preparation cards.

  • Train staff and volunteers on how to market healthy options.

3. Accomodate Diet Restrictions

Things a Pantry Can Do

  • Promote healthy options for all clients (e.g., low-sodium, low-sugar, higher nutrient content, and fewer ingredients).

  • Have an area with food and resources for people with special diets including food allergies. 

  • Label foods for people on special diets.


  • More choices for clients with special dietary needs.

  • Demonstrate commitment to client health.

SNAP-Ed Can Help

  • Provide nutrition education materials about healthy options.

  • Assist with developing a labeling policy and process.

Supermarket Model

Food is set up on shelves by food groups. Clients walk through the space and take food off shelves according to pantry guidelines.  This model allows clients to handle food and look at the labels just as if they were shopping in a store. Pantry space will determine how many clients can shop at a time. This model is the most client-friendly, as it is like a grocery store.

Table Model

Food is set up on tables by food groups. Clients walk by each table to choose and pack their food.  This model allows clients to physically handle food as they would do if they were shopping for food.

Window Model

Clients choose the type of food they want by pointing to the food on the shelf. Pantry workers then pack food bags according to the clients’ choices and family size. This model helps offer client choice when the pantry has limited space.

Inventory List Model

A list of food available is posted or given to clients. Clients choose their food from the list. Pantry workers then assemble the client's food bags. This model is helpful for clients who have trouble moving around – they are able to choose foods without having to leave their seats.