Increasing Food Access: Integrated Vehicle Routing and Assortment Planning for Mobile Markets

Principal Investigator(s):

Yiling Zhang, Assistant Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering


Project summary:

To improve food access in communities without convenient transportation to grocery stores, nonprofit and commercial organizations are turning to an innovative solution: mobile markets. A mobile market is a grocery store in the form of a bus, truck, or semi-trailer--typically outfitted with refrigeration equipment--that brings healthy food directly to communities in need. One important goal of such a mobile market is to provide culturally appropriate foods to people in communities of different cultural backgrounds. Given the limited shelf space of a mobile market vehicle, operators should carefully decide the product assortment for each trip. In doing so, they should seek to fulfill demand for culturally appropriate foods as well as other basic grocery requirements on that trip's stops. The product assortment in turn impacts the demand at every stop of the trip. To account for the intercorrelation between the demand and operational decisions, this study aims to jointly optimize the routing and assortment decisions to maximize the total demand served, and other measures of societal benefit, while generating necessary revenue to maintain financial sustainability. The goal of this research is to (1) develop a theoretical framework for designing routes and assortment plans while accounting for endogenous demand uncertainties, and (2) develop efficient algorithms that can support operations of mobile markets.

Project details:

  • Project number: 2023020
  • Start date: 09/2022
  • Project status: Active
  • Research area: Planning and Economy
  • Topics: Equity, Planning