Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 39-51

First online:

Buying into the food system: Trends in food retailing in the US and implications for local foods

  • Amy GuptillAffiliated withDepartment of Rural Sociology, Cornell University Email author 
  • , Jennifer L. WilkinsAffiliated withDivision of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University

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The contemporary US food systemis characterized by both an unprecedentedconcentration of corporate control as well as afragmentation of sourcing and marketingprocesses, introducing both new constraints andnew opportunities for more localized foodsystems. The purpose of our study is to explorethese issues by investigating three keyquestions. First, what are the key trends inthe US grocery industry? Second, how dodifferent kinds of food outlets choose,procure, and promote food products? Finally,what are the implications of recent trends inthe food retailing process for strengtheninglocal flows of the production, distribution,and consumption of food? Background informationon the grocery industry and the results ofseven open-ended interviews conducted withowners and managers of grocery stores in oneupstate New York county indicate that theretailing process differs in complex ways fromstore to store and in most aspects cannot beinferred from store type. The paper concludeswith a discussion of the implications of ourfindings for local food system efforts,specifically in terms of new collaborationsamong producers, distributors, retailers, andshoppers, who play an indispensable role indeveloping viable alternatives to increasingcorporate control.

Food retail Food system Grocery stores Local foods Packaged goods industry