The 2011 Conference title was “The supermarket revolution in food: good, bad or ugly for the world’s farmers, consumers and retailers?”.
The supermarket revolution has driven, and has been driven by, technology in storage and distribution logistics and in the market chain; there are benefits to consumers, traders and producers; and overall the revolution has delivered productivity gains in the post harvest component of food production. Consumers benefit by the effect supermarkets have in pulling down prices, pushing up quality, and ensuring food safety especially in times of bird-flue and other disease outbreaks.”
While the current debate around supermarkets in Australia is focussing to a large extent on pricing policies, the issues related to the so-called ‘supermarket revolution’ are much broader both in Australia and in the developing world. Our 2011 conference encouraged debate on the extent to which the growing significance of supermarkets and a range of other issues related to the marketing chain for food are impacting consumers, producers and traders for good and for bad, and more broadly for world food supply, trade, security and scarcity.
Supermarkets have in the past 10 to 20 years transformed agri-food markets in developing countries at different rates and depths. This presents benefits and challenges for farmers, consumers and retailers as markets shift from fragmented local or village wholesalers and retailers to larger centralised wholesale markets: first for dry goods such as grains; and later in fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and milk. And the issues are not too different in developed countries like Australia. On the one hand, supermarkets promote development. They allow private investment, reduce food prices to consumers and raise product quality and safety. In other words, they are good for consumers. On the other hand, they pose tremendous challenges for producers, especially small producers. Producers struggle to meet the higher quality standards, struggle to get their produce to the supply chain and struggle to get a fair share of the profit stream.
What are the issues being faced with different models present around the developing world and Australia, what are the costs and benefits, what are the policy implications and are their opportunities for more or better agricultural research to face the challenges?
The Crawford Fund conference commenced with a presentation by a high level figure from a key international development organisation to provide an overview of the issues from global and development perspectives. This was followed by an independent economic analysis of the rise and rise of supermarkets by the leading international scholar in the field, Professor Thomas Reardon. The broad context of this opening session was given depth, colour and contrast by varying perspectives from the developing world and Australia, asking whether the supermarket revolution is good or bad for consumers, producers and traditional retailers. The picture was further refined through impact case studies and business models from around the world including cooperatives, value chains and logistics.