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Austerity Retail in Britain

Austerity Retail in Britain


The British Academy




Dr. Lopamudra Saxena and Dr. Chiara Tornaghi


36 months from 1 October 2016

Project Objectives

This project aims to critically examine the emergence of what we call ‘austerity retail’ initiatives amidst rising food poverty in Britain. These include ‘social supermarkets’ and other forms of ‘community shop’ offering highly discounted products, and often making use of ‘surplus’ or ‘rejected’ foods which would otherwise be thrown away. We plan to use the findings from this project as a platform to explore a larger research project on austerity retail initiatives in the particular context of food poverty in Coventry.


Despite having the fifth highest GDP in the world, food poverty in Britain has increased. While academic literature in the field of food geographies has already shed some light on both the charity side (food banks) and productive side (community gardens, urban agriculture, alternative food networks), little is known on the models and initiatives which are emerging within the realms of shopping/retail in times of austerity. Our research project is timely and relevant to critically understanding such initiatives. ‘Social supermarkets’ in particular are attracting considerable attention and research interest from local and national public sector food advisory bodies, policymakers, the private sector, and the media. This project will examine this emerging phenomenon and look at its implications and impacts in the longer term as an intervention to counter Britain’s vulnerability to hunger. Alongside social supermarkets, other retail initiatives have emerged such as The People’s Supermarket in London and ‘hiSbe’ (how it should be) in Brighton, which aim to offer affordable alternatives rooted in principles of sustainability, ethical sourcing and/or social inclusion. No systematic attention in academic literature has so far been paid to the full range of models and underpinning visions that are emerging within the shopping/retail sector in times of austerity. This project will undertake the first systematic critical investigation, in the context of Britain, of what we describe as ‘austerity retail’: non-charitable initiatives, aimed primarily at low-income consumers, that often – although not always - include ‘surplus’ or ‘rejected’ food in their portfolio.

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