Making affordable, healthy, and relevant foods accessible to food insecure college students.

7 Minute reading time


Grabbit is a student-run food system that focuses on destigmatizing the experience of food acquisition for food insecure college students by providing access to affordable, fresh, and relevant groceries.

My role

I contributed to the overall design process including user research, ideation, prototyping, and user testing. I was primarily responsible for the app's design, including wireframing, prototyping, reiteration, and final MVP. This case study primarily delves into the app's process and its role in the system.

Project scope

Two designers (Jasmine Xu and I) 
April 2023 - May 2023 (6 weeks)


Figma, Procreate, Rhino

Problem discovery

College students experiencing food insecurity struggle with access to pertinent aid.  

An estimated 1 in 3 college students are struggling to meet their nutritional needs. While there are existing resources, students are in a unique position where they often don’t qualify for federal aid like SNAP and have to rely on donation-based food aid like food banks and pantries. However, stigma, inconsistent resources, accessibility, and lack of representation deter student participation in such programs. This made us ask the question -

HMW help food insecure college students access groceries in an equal and affordable manner?


Groceries that everyone can afford.

Building inclusive food communities on campuses

Grabbit is a grocery co-op system focused on providing college students access to affordable groceries and building community through food. Through the Grabbit App, students can participate in events, shop at the Burrow Market (the on-campus grocery store), and advocate for changes to its inventory and operations.

Ensuring accessible groceries for all

Pay for groceries using a need-based payment system

  • Simple financial status verification process during onboarding - no paperwork or interviews needed.
  • Pay for groceries at the Burrow based on your financial needs through differing conversion rates
  • Automatically have funds converted to Grabbit credit
Universal shopping experience

One market for all, one card for all

  • The Burrow Market welcomes all students, no matter their needs!
  • The Burrow Market welcomes all students, no matter their needs!
  • Purchase groceries at the Burrow Market through your in-app Grabit Card.
Democratic co-op system

Encouraging student input for fair representation at the Burrow Market.

  • Post your own requests to the community request feed.
  • Upvote others' requests that you want to see at the Burrow Market
  • Get updates about the status of your requests and requests you upvoted
Fostering a food community

Participate in campus-wide events and polls

  • RSVP to Grabbit and campus-wide food-related events
  • Get updates on the latest news at the Burrow Market
  • Participate in Grabbit polls to make Grabbit and the Burrow Market better for everyone
Our main research obstacle

Overcoming the ethics of researching a vulnerable user group

Because food insecure individuals are considered a vulnerable group, we did not conduct user interviews because we could not ethically interview individuals without fair financial compensation. To overcome this challenge, we extensively researched surrounding stakeholders, existing solutions in the food-aid space, and referenced credible secondary sources to help us paint a picture of our target user. 

Initial secondary research

Federal aid only reaches a fraction of college students facing food insecurity, leaving many without reliable aid.

We began our research journey by investigating the first line of defense: the nationwide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides qualifying individuals with monthly grocery finances. However, qualifying as a college student is complicated due to their student status, which reduces eligibility and decentivizes enrollment.

Onsite research

Donation-based aid tries to fill that problem space, but doesn't have its desired outreach to students.

If federally funded aid only reaches a fraction of food insecure students, what are other solutions students can rely on? The other most widely available solutions would be donation-based aid. To gain insight into food banks’ services, users, and possible pain points, we volunteered and visited both the RI Lighthouse Food Bank and RISD Food Pantry.


Food banks/pantries don't reach students because...

1. Stigma around the term "food insecure"

Stigma surrounding the term makes people feel ashamed of possibly being seen using pantries.

2. Limited fresh and diverse produce

Being donation based results in largely non-perishable goods and limited fresh and culturally relevant foods.

3. Limited accessibility

Food banks usually only operate once a month or biweekly, and campus pantries are often hidden away with limited signage.

Interviewing adjacent stakeholders

Diving deeper into to root causes reveals more pain points

In every conversation we had throughout our research, stigma towards food-insecurity was always mentioned as the first obstacle. Through speaking with experts like the Rhode Island Food Policy Council as well as the various other stakeholders in our previous research, we took a deeper look into why food insecurity is stigmatized.


Stigma around food insecurity is caused by...

1. Self-identification

People don't view themselves as "food insecure" because they usually envision someone in more need than them.

2. Lack of choice

Not having the autonomy to choose your own foods is a less dignifying experience.

3. Limited funding

Limited resources makes it difficult to maintain reliable operations and build trust with users.

Defining a persona and goals

Consolidating our insights into a main persona

To synthesize our research and visualize our target audience, it was important to us to create a user persona, especially since we were limited in our ability to conduct user interviews.

Solution ideation

Generating solutions based on persona pain points revealed co-op food system with digital support to be best

At this point in our generation process, we wanted to explore all venues of solution; products, apps, systems, business models, etc.

Co-op system map

Slimming down features to support the ideal solution scenario

Based on our design requirements, we used the scamper method to determine what were the minimum necessary features to support our food system. From there we refine our system map.

Building a product persona and design system

Building product identity: Grabbit is friendly, youthful, and inviting!

Because stigma was such a big pain point, we didn't want Grabbit to resemble existing solutions. To help us visualize Grabbit, we created a "product persona" to help us ensure design system and brand aligned with our goals.

App wireframes

Creating app's user flow to prioritize most common use case

Based on Grabbit's system map and our persona, we determined what the most common use case of the app would be and built our system architecture around that. We believed that the app's main use case would be its pay in store feature.

I want to shop for groceries I can afford.

I want to shop for groceries just like everyone else.

I want access to relevant groceries.

I want access to more fresh produce.

User feedback

Validating our concept with stakeholders re-focused the goals of the app to prioritize social engagement instead.

We brought concept sketches of our co-op and wireframes to the campus main green to hear what students had to say about a co-op and supporting app concept. The most recurring feedback we received was intrigue and encouragement surrounding the request feature; since students felt disgruntled by the lack of choice of foods on campus, they felt strongly about having a voice in

Stakeholder feedback

What we heard...

"I love the idea of being able to request items,

People don't view themselves as "food insecure" because they usually envision someone in more need than them.

2. Lack of choice

Not having the autonomy to choose your own foods is a less dignifying experience.

3. Limited funding

Limited resources makes it difficult to maintain reliable operations and build trust with users.

While we originally intended for the app to serve as a support for the in-person market with its main function to be housing the Grabbit Card, student's expressed that their most interested feature was it's social aspect and how they could influence the Burrow Market through the app's request feature.

This feedback helped us expand the app's function and we refocused its goals to social engagement. This led us to redesign the request feature to be more robust and interactive.

We also made edits to the Grabbit Card, prioritizing information over simplicity. The original feature was a bit confusing and oeifjaowiefj wofijaoefj wifjoafoawjf ioaw fowf

Onboarding + sign up

Adding funds to Grabbit card

Paying for groceries at the Burrow Market

Adding to the community request board

Getting notified of request status

Home feed

Project Takeaways

New information and insights will pop up and throw a proverbial wrench in your process; learn how to use that wrench!

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