Retailing local food through supermarkets: Cases from Belgium and the Netherlands

Published on
June 7, 2021

Supermarkets are the most important access point for food in Western societies and service all layers of society, but the role that supermarkets can play in food system (re)localization has received little attention. In this paper, Retailing local food through supermarkets: Cases from Belgium and the Netherlands, food system (re)localization is translated within conventional globalized supermarket-based food retailing in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Retailing local food through supermarkets: Cases from Belgium and the Netherlands

This paper is written by Tjitske Anna Zwart and Sigrid Wertheim-Heck and has recently been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production (June 2021). Sigrid is an associate professor at the Environmental Policy group in Wageningen University & Research.

An abstract from the authors

We explore the relationship between local food and supermarket retail practices: What is "local" food? To what extent do local products require adjustments in the standard practices of retail chains? How does local food fit into the sustainability strategies of supermarket chains? What is the relationship between the corporate headquarters and the local operations of individual stores?

Being flexible in practice

Firstly, We demonstrate that to overcome tensions between local and conventional retailing there is a need for increased flexibility

  • (i) in deviating from conventional retailing practices for individual stores
  • (ii) within the definition of locality – the definition of ‘local’ determines what local practices look like.

Local food retailing & corporate sustainability

Secondly, we show how local retailing relates to corporate sustainability. Local retailing is predominantly motivated by social-economic sustainability considerations, whereas the environmental sustainability of local food is implicitly assumed. However, our results suggest that local food retailing may be ineffective and even counterproductive to corporate environmental sustainability objectives.

How about a centralized strategy?

Thirdly, we address how regional policies pushing food system localization influence local food retailing within supermarkets. Regional policies may drive supermarkets to retail local foods. Nevertheless, in the absence of a centralized strategy, store managers may find themselves stuck between their regional context and their corporate retailing practices.

Read more, learn more

The full paper is published in the Journal of Cleaner Production (June 2021) by authors, Tjitske Anna Zwart and Sigrid Wertheim-Heck.

Read paper here