An examination of the potential existence of ‘food deserts’ in Northern Ireland

C. J. Strugnell, Sinead Furey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Food deserts have recently (1997) been identified as a social exclusionissue in the UK. They have been defined as an area where people do nothave easy access to healthy and affordable fresh foods, particularly ifthey are poor and have limited mobility. This definition is particularlyrelevant to N. Ireland, where 32% of households do not have easyaccess to a car and having some of the poorest consumers, dependentupon social security payments. It has also seen a major change ingrocery retail distribution, with most of the large UK retailers(Sainsbury's, Safeway and Tesco) opening stores. Many have beenlocated on the periphery of towns resulting in the displacement ofindependent (smaller) retailers from town centres. This desertificationprocess has impacted upon some disadvantaged consumer groups(elderly/single parent families), marginalising such consumers. It wastherefore an opportune time to study this phenomenon in N. Ireland.Research methodology included a questionnaire (n�1094, 75% livingin urban areas), consumer focus groups (n�10), comparative shop-ping exercises in rural and urban areas (n�25), interviews with retailmanagers and consumer shopping diaries. The results indicate thatcertain consumer groups, particularly the car-less and those on lowerincomes, were excluded from an equitable shopping provision. Evi-dence suggested that some urban consumers may exist in somewhatself-imposed food deserts, exacerbated by the fact that consumers onlower-incomes shopped locally and more frequently than their highearning and car owning counterparts. Results also indicated a disparityof prices between store types and between towns. Whilst no town couldbe definitively assigned the label ``food desert'', there was evidence forareas of low provision and that access to an affordable and healthy dietwas disparate and inequitable.Aworrying trend was that this disparitywas increasing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-265
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Dec 2002


  • Food deserts
  • social exclusion
  • low income
  • healthy
  • affordable


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