An investigation into the availability and economic accessibility of food items in rural and urban areas of Northern Ireland

Sinead Furey, Heather Farley, Christopher Strugnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The question of access to food has three components: physical access to food, financial access to food and access to information about food. This study explores the issue of financial access to food. The affordability of food is a major
consideration for consumers, an important marketing tool for retailers and a principal theme in food policy. Research methods included a comparative shopping exercise (shopping basket analysis) in 109 stores across four towns (two urban and two rural) in Northern Ireland. Store type included multiples (major supermarket chains) and symbol group stores (those stores operating under a franchise from one main buying group). Results indicate that in the main it is cheaper to buy from the multiples, shopping from a symbol
group store can incur cost penalties of up to 39.4% above the multiples’ prices. Price disparities, analysed using zscores, were apparent between towns and across store types. Similarly, an availability audit of foodstuffs portrayed
the multiples as the most comprehensive from which to shop, whereas symbol group stores fared poorly in the availability of fresh green vegetables, carcass meat and wholemeal breads. This is an important issue because it plays an integral part in the health inequality debate and also relates to social exclusion. Fundamentally, financial access to food impinges upon the whole question of food-purchasing behaviour in terms of accessibility, affordability and availability. Therefore, economic access to food can be used as a useful precursor to a comprehensive analysis of food access in its entirety. It is also useful as an indicator of social exclusion. This study seeks to inform and influence the food policy debate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-321
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Consumer Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2002


  • Food affordability
  • Availability
  • Economic accessibiity
  • inequality


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