FOOD EMPOWERMENT, EDUCATION AND MARKETING . Food deserts - an example of social exclusion?

Heather Farley, Sinead Furey, Chris Strugnell

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The  ‘food   desert’ is a fairly recent phenomenon with emotive and political overtones.  It has been described as an area of social deprivation where people do not have easy access to healthy and affordable food. Northern Ireland has   undergone a retail revolution with the arrival of the UK mainland multiples, the spatial restructuring of the retailing industry to edge-of-town sites and the   associated effects on town centre food stores. The research initiative has been considerable in Britain but deficient in Northern Ireland; hence the urgent need for this study.

This study investigated the food accessibility and ultimate potential existence of food deserts in both rural and urban areas of Northern Ireland using microstudies of four provincial towns. The research methodology was both intensive and extensive using perceptual and experiential evidence of principal shoppers from 1094 Northern Ireland households. The study allowed for the validation of results via a varied range of research tools, e.g. case studies, focus groups, interviews, observations and an extensive questionnaire.

Results indicated that certain consumer cohorts (particularly the car-less and lower income consumers) were excluded from equitable shopping provision. Evidence suggested that urban consumers might exist in somewhat self-imposed food deserts, exacerbated by the fact that consumers on lower incomes shopped locally and more frequently than their higher income counterparts. Low-income family units also exhibited lower levels of cooking skills, and therefore tended to purchase convenience foods from higher priced local retail outlets. Shopping basket analyses revealed the price disparities that existed within store types and between towns while consumer focus groups qualified the extent of consumer disadvantage experienced by vulnerable consumer groups. While no town or area was assigned the label ‘food desert’ areas of low provision could be identified with worrying signs that food access was ultimately disparate and inequitable. This situation is likely to worsen as the full effects of the retail revolution are realised. Recommendations suggest incremental changes to effect long-term change and an interdisciplinary approach is foreseen as the optimal way to address the problem. Control of retail developments is seen as essential in town planning together with the control of retail monopolies in such areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-230
JournalInternational Journal of Consumer Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2003


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