Supermarketisation and Rural Society Futures

Authored by: Jane Dixon , Cathy Banwell

Routledge International Handbook of Rural Studies

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138804371
eBook ISBN: 9781315753041
Adobe ISBN: 9781317619864


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Over two decades ago corporate food retailers were crowned the ‘new masters of the food system’ (Flynn & Marsden, 1992, p. 34). In this and subsequent work the rise of supermarket chains in the United Kingdom was attributed to regulatory powers shifting from governments and farmer organisations to retail corporations between the 1960s and the 1980s (Marsden & Wrigley, 1996). A similar trajectory towards corporate food retailer dominance over agri-food systems was under way in the United States several decades earlier (Seth & Randall, 1999). This ‘supermarket revolution’ has penetrated most countries in the developed and developing world in the last half-century (Burch & Lawrence, 2007; Coe & Wrigley, 2007; Humphrey, 2007; Reardon & Gulati, 2008; Mei & Shao, 2011; Reardon, Timmer & Minten, 2012). The impacts of this revolution on urban ways of living, transportation systems, culinary cultures, trade rules, food-quality standard setting, and agri-food systems – along with rural societies – have been profound. While this chapter focuses on rural societies, it is impossible to disentangle the behaviours of urban consumers from the fortunes of rural communities. At its most simple, the supermarket revolution is the outcome of two revolutions: an urban food provisioning revolution and an agri-food supply chain revolution. Supermarket chains have been central to both. In order to reveal how supermarkets have escaped strong state regulation – and, consequently, how well positioned they are to control much of what happens in national and local food systems – the contours of the demand- and supply-side revolutions are outlined below.

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