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Research Project


Research context

  • Food poverty and household food insecurity increasing in Britain (Joseph Rowntree 2017, Food Foundation 2016, Oxfam 2014).

  • Phenomenal increase in charitable initiatives in the last decade, such as food banks for emergency food provision.

  • Considerable attention by researchers (see for e.g. Lambie-Mumford 2017, Loopstra 2015, Garthwaite et al. 2015, Dowler and Lambie-Mumford 2014) on charitable and emergency food provision, but hardly much attention paid to non-charitable responses emerging in the retail sector.

  • Our broader research interest is in non-charitable responses to food poverty --  for which we are proposing ‘austerity retail’, an umbrella term to encompass various initiatives addressing the people mostly affected by austerity, and which have a retail approach.

  • Among non-charitable responses are ‘social supermarkets’ (SSMs) which have started emerging in Britain since 2013. They are a form of ‘austerity retail’.

  • Aim of our research – to undertake the first systematic investigation of the SSM phenomenon in Britain- to explore the rise of the SSMs in Britain; to examine the nature of the SSM response in relation to food poverty; to identify questions for future research.

  • Exploratory research project funded by a British Academy-Leverhulme Small Research Grant (2016-17).

What is a SSM?


  • Although SSMs have emerged recently in Britain since 2013, they are found in many European countries since the late 1980s; started in France (Holweg and Lienbacher 2016) and now estimated to be around 1000+ in total.

  • No strict definition of a SSM (Schneider et al. 2015) -- a diverse group of initiatives which provide heavily discounted food and wraparound social support, and having a social mission.

  • Key feature -- they acquire their stock of food (and non-food consumables) mainly from ‘surplus’ commonly understood as products not sellable in the mainstream supermarkets because of various reasons (mislabelling, damaged or excess stock, close to or past 'best before' or 'sell by' dates).


SSMs in Britain

We identified seven ‘parent’ SSM initiatives which participated in our research.


Key insights

  • there are important differences between SSMs in Britain and those in Europe

  • a growing number of SSMs in Britain particularly in the most deprived areas

  • a step up from food banks in terms of choice and dignity

  • a 'social value' model with surplus food and social support at its core

  • there are inherent tensions and contradictions


Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), Coventry University, Ryton Gardens, Coventry CV8 3LG, United Kingdom

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Photos used with permission from the initiatives in the study.

Thanks to Ben Cook and Vanshika Saxena for designing the website.