A supermarket is self-service shop offering a wide variety of food, beverages and household products, organized into sections. It is larger and has a wider selection than earlier grocery stores, but is smaller and more limited in the range of merchandise than a hypermarket or big-box market.
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- I'm all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for that special offer
A guaranteed personality
Krystina Shveda, “How coronavirus is changing grocery shopping”, BBC, “Follow The Food”
- “Supermarkets are very efficient at providing a lot of food for a lot of people but they have their vulnerabilities,” says Moya Kneafsey, professor in food and local development at Coventry University. In Britain, for example, only 17% of fruit and half of vegetables are grown locally – the rest comes from cheap international trade, as supermarkets promote year-round availability. “Covid-19 begs the question – will the imports we rely on be dependable in the future? Even if supply is OK at the moment, will it be affected by the long-term impact of the virus in producer countries and in the transport sector?”
- The average storage capacity of a supermarket is only one day’s worth of fresh products, says Jan Willem van der Schans, senior researcher of new business models at Wageningen University and Research. This supply chain needs a buffer – extra provision for when international trade or logistics are disrupted. “Every country has its comparative advantage – we grow bananas in tropical zones and we grow kale in temperate zones, but locally-produced food could be that buffer in the future.”
- There are other downsides of overly relying on supermarket chains, which have more than a 95% grocery market share in the UK and France. Their products use a narrow range of ingredients based on crops and varieties that grow the fastest or are the most efficient to produce in large quantities. Industrial agriculture causes environmental degradation and relies on monocultures which are susceptible to disease. And the whole system tends to support low wages and temporary jobs. Almost a third of agriculture and fishing workers and 38% of food retail and wholesale workers in the UK are paid below the living wage. In the developing world, half of agricultural workers live in poverty – on less than $3.10 (£2.55) per day.
In contrast, local systems with fewer steps between the grower and the consumer often support organic and sustainable farms, which are committed to paying fair wages and are more community-driven and diverse, says Kneafsey. They also offer transparency – something that extended supply chains are not usually able to provide. Yet, only 2% of fresh food in the EU is sold directly between farmers and consumers. In the US, food sold directly to consumers by farmers accounted for $3bn (£2.36) in 2015 while grocery store sales, including supermarkets, accounted for $613bn (£483) in the same year.