BISMARCK, N.D. (PNS) – Several groups are trying to shine a light on what they call a big problem in North Dakota — the disappearance of independent grocery stores in small towns.

A new program called the Rural Grocery Initiative is aimed at keeping these stores open. According to the Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, there are only 98 full-service grocery stores in North Dakota communities with less than 2,100 people. That’s why the association is working with groups such as the North Dakota Farmer’s Union on solutions through this initiative.

The Union’s Jason McKenney says people living in these towns need a good range of food options.

McKenney says the distribution system is the biggest hurdle he sees when looking at why these stores are struggling.

While officials who oversee the program say they’re still trying to map out a range of solutions, they say one plan they’re trying out is to get these grocers to buy their products collectively so that prices might come down for them.