In early November 2018, a book on Case Studies in Food Retailing and Distribution was published, edited by John Byrom and Dominic Medway. Amongst the very wide ranging and interesting chapters, was an effort by myself and two colleagues from the University of Tampere in Finland (Hannu Saarijarvi and Sonja Lahtinen).
Our chapter, entitled “Food, health and data: developing transformative food retailing” analyses the developing relationship amongst food retailing, consumption and diet and health, reflecting on this intersection between health policy and retailing. Retailers often view themselves as being under threat from this increased interest in health policy, perceiving ever tightening restrictions as the only likely outcome.
However the chapter argues that whilst this may be true to a degree (and we see this in recent proposals in Scotland), it is also the case that food retailers have an opportunity to take on a greater role and a greater responsibility regarding consumers’ health and wellbeing. Digital data of various forms suggests a new proactive, transformative role for retailers, arising not only from the weakness of current practice but also the opportunities of building a closer, more helpful, relationship with consumers’ lives.
There is a revolutionary opportunity to reconfigure the food retailers’ role, not only competitively but also societally. This brings implications for consumers, companies, academics and society at large.
Implications of transformative food retailing
|Stakeholder||Implications of transformative food retailing|
|Consumers||Enhancing value creation; increasing human agency; elevating identity projects; creating a sense of safety and certainty; granting access to information; assisting in informed choices; improving dietary intake; promoting healthy lifestyles|
|Companies||Offering a way for differentiation; establishing new markets for new start-ups; motivating role reconfiguration; initiating strategic changes; inspiring new service design; reformulating service offering; engaging with different stakeholders; innovating new marketing processes; humanizing brand image; cultivating social responsibility|
|Academic community||Stimulating new retailing research avenues; advancing multidisciplinary collaboration; spurring new research methods; bridging the gap between scientific knowledge; business practitioners and society; increasing research relevance and social impact|
|Society||Increasing the role of businesses in solving societal challenges; capturing societal potential of retailing; altering dominant social structures; stimulating social action; informing decision-making; raising public awareness of the impact of dietary choices for health; addressing socioeconomic differences; improving public health; providing new retailing-led public policy guidelines|
Our chapter concludes:
“Food retailing is at a crossroads. It is viewed increasingly as part of the problem of health and diet in society. It need not, however, be like this. There is a choice to be made between a battle over regulation or an embrace of digitalization, data availability, and health concerns. Transformative food retailing offers new venues for value creation, both for firms and customers, and points toward potential areas of strategic differentiation. New uses of customer data play a pivotal role and provide a new means for building customer loyalty. Changes in consumer behaviour toward healthier food consumption at the individual level contribute to potentially major impacts at societal level. Taken together, transformative food retailing has multiple value potentials and can extend the food retailers’ role from supplying products and services toward facilitating consumers’ personal and societal transformation toward healthier lives. This redefines and concretizes the importance of food retailing in contemporary society.”