24 July 2016: ‘old’ supermarket food versus fresh market produce

Tom Rawstorne writes in the UK Daily Mail about the age of food sold in UK supermarkets – apples can be up to 12 months old, fish can be up to two years old, fresh salad and vegetables can be up to 3 weeks old. This all comes down to new and improved technologies that chill, store and treat fresh food to extend its life. The article  discusses  how much nutritional quality is retained through these technologies and treatments. Such revelations can only boost the case for shopping for fresh food on markets.


19 July 2016: does the new Arla/Asda milk initiative help the UK dairy industry?

Arla foods launched a new initiative with supermarket chain Asda on 12 July. This gives shoppers the opportunity to pay an extra 25 pence on a four-pint carton of both semi-skimmed and full fat milk. The extra 25p will be returned directly to the farmers in the corresponding co-operative grouping. The initiative is based on research that said 63% of shoppers asked, would be happy to pay more for milk if they knew the extra cost would be returned to farmers in this way.

However, as previously reported on this blog, and more recently in the local press:

“Milk prices have been at unsustainably low prices for several months now, leaving the prices paid to farmers by processors well below the cost of production.

Official Government figures show that the average farm gate milk price in May was 20.44p, which represented a fall of 1.13p or 5.3 per cent on the previous month, and which is some 10p below the 30p per litre level which is considered to be the break-even point for dairy farmers.”

In these challenging times, if feedback from Asda’s customers suggests that they are prepared to pay more, why should the additional cost of milk be a matter of choice by the customer, with no additional burden carried by the supermarket? If all Asda customers pay more for their milk, this would provide far more support for hard-pressed dairy farmers and pave the way for other supermarkets to follow their lead; this really would make this a ‘sustainable business’ initiative by Asda.

4 February 2016 -new FRC report: School Neighbourhoods and Young People’s Food Choices

There is a new paper on the Food Research Collaboration website – Within Arm’s Reach: School Neighbourhoods and Young People’s Food Choices, written by Jan Moorhouse, Ariadne Kapetanaki and Wendy Wills.

You can download the paper here

The website has the following summary:

‘What factors underpin young people’s food and drink purchases in the vicinity of schools, on the way to and from school, and during the school day? There has been much written about school meals and their impact on children’s health but in this briefing paper we focus on the factors that inform food and drink purchasing by young people in the vicinity of school. This paper presents the state of knowledge concerning the school neighbourhood food and drink environment and its potential impact on young people’s food and drink choices.

In recent years much has been done to improve school meals and the limited availability of some popular but less healthy foods in secondary schools may have resulted in unintended consequences. Many young people are turning to fast food outlets, supermarkets and convenience stores outside school to buy their lunch, which can represent 23% of their daily food intake. Peer pressure coupled with perceptions that eating healthily isn’t ‘cool’ may also be contributory factors.

The researchers involved in this study argue that food outlets could offer ‘supersize’ promotions for healthy foods and not just for items such as crisps and sugary drinks to help drive down obesity. School cafeterias should provide a better dining experience – a crucial factor in improving young people’s food purchasing habits. Their need to be with friends is of vital importance and cafeterias need to do more to be seen as an acceptable social space, whilst promoting ‘tasty’ rather than ‘healthy’ food’.

27 July 2015 – Shelf Life – the growth of African supermarkets and the urban poor

There is an article in the UK’s Financial Times (July 25, written by Andrew England) about the growth and impact of supermarkets in Africa. It provides a good contrast between pristine supermarket shelves where middle-class customers shop for an array of goods that stretch from Swiss chocolate to nappies, rice and sacks of maize meal, to the scene outside where young men sell tomatoes and onions for five kwacha a kilo (approximately 40 pence in the UK) and women sit on the tarmac selling avocados and dried kapenta fish (a type of sardine). He notes, ‘it is, in miniature, a scene typical of the street-side bustle that has long been the African shopping experience.’

Andrew Young writes about Lusaka, Zambia where the supermarket phenomenon is growing but notes this is also a trend in many other African countries. He talks to supermarket shoppers who rarely go to the huge open-air market, consider the supermarket a symbol of development and who ‘don’t want to go backwards’. Other say that the ability to shop in the malls is an indication of status and if you do shop on the street, you don’t want others to know about it. Young  also talks to retailers  from Pick n Pay and Shoprite  who are up-beat about  growth potential in African markets but also notes how poor transportation and bureaucracy and corruption at border crossings leads to shortages – and panic buying by consumers.

Perhaps Andrew Young’s most telling comment is when he returns to the informal street markets where the vast majority of Africans continue to shop and don’t have the money to shop in supermarkets. He quotes Richard Brasher, a former chief executive of Tesco’s UK operations and now running Pick n Pay, “I can go from the most sophisticated first-world feel to a century back in the space of 50 miles. Half my customers go to bed at night not having eaten enough and some go to bed probably having eaten too much.’

The article graphically demonstrates the tension between traditional and modernized food systems in Africa with the  growth of supermarkets and shopping malls servicing the growing middle class and a youthful, urbanizing population – but with the vast majority left outside on the pavement, struggling to make a living.  It also underlines issues previously raised in this blog. The first touches on the impact on traditional diets where rising per capita incomes and urbanization increases middle-class Africans’ consumption of meat and dairy (see 3 July 2015). The second is about the affect on diets of those on low-incomes and living in poverty as informal food traders and the informal food economy comes under threat from city policies to move  traders out of inner cities (see the case of Cape Town, South Africa – 6 May 2015).

Given all the known problems associated with large-scale food production and distribution one has to question how the growth of supermarkets will feed the urban poor and undernourished.  Traditional food systems must be supported to counter inequalities in food distribution and provide affordable access to fresh food for the majority.

10 July 2015 – European Food Vision photo competition

Supply Chainge – a campaign organised by  a group of civil society organizations from across Europe and the Global South that aims to make supermarket store brands (sometimes known as ‘own brands’ or ‘private labels’) fairer and more sustainable – is asking for entries to a photo competition from EU-residents.

While the  campaign is asking retailers to implement changes in their supply chains, the photo competition is asking consumers to share their vision of a better world and a more sustainable retailer industry. You can see examples of the types  of photographs they are looking for and how to enter (deadline 31 July)  here

Then get your friends to vote on the entries – including your own! First prize is a trip for two to the Milan EXPO in October – you can read the details here

I can already see some food market entries….

6 May 2015 – Nutritious food and the informal food economy in South Africa

A recent article on the Cape Town Partnership website (30 April) reports on the work of Jane Battersby and colleagues at the African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN) about how supermarkets are expanding into low-income areas and ‘causing people to move from traditional diets to ones that include more refined, processed, energy dense foods that are low in nutrients.’

One aspect of this concerns social grants – people used to spend this money on food from nearby hawkers, street traders and other vendors, but this is changing as large retailers start to pay out these grants rather than community facilities, and recipients switch to shop for food in the supermarket.

The article also discusses how, despite the important role that township traders, hawkers and other informal food traders play as part of peoples’ resilience against hunger in cities, the informal urban food economy is under threat from city policies to move informal traders out of inner cities and from the rapid growth of supermarkets.

You can read the full article here – where there is also a You Tube about ‘Operation Clean Sweep’ that evicted informal traders from the inner city in Johannesburg in 2013.

28 April 2015 – could this be a new supermarket model?

Paul Mason suggests in the UK Guardian (27 April) that supermarkets could re-jig their current business model by taking radical steps and becoming public benefit corporations. First, this means paying attention to the vital role of their staff; by this, he means giving them the chance to chat with customers (and pass on their knowledge and expertise). Second, they should promote stores  as modern agoras, recognizing them as places where local communities  meet up and chat (especially on Friday nights) – here, he makes comparisons with the lively, social aspects of traditional markets and farmers’ markets. Third – and perhaps this is the most ‘radical’ aspect – get supermarkets to share the data they hold about what we, as individual customers, buy. Paul Mason says  making him confront his intake of  alcohol, calories and protein  would meet ‘a public good’ but, importantly, by aggregating these data anonymously, public health experts could mine it for something much bigger. In this scenario, he also proposes that ‘society could reward supermarkets for achieving local health outcomes’ such as, incentives for not displaying ‘sugar-rich rubbish’.

He concludes by saying:

A supermarket whose relationship with suppliers was no longer oppressive and opaque; and which promoted health, sociability and healthy eating; whose social dynamics became more human; and whose data was managed in the public interest would be a different beast. It might not be very profitable – but then neither is the current model.’

You can read the full article here