Keywords: supermarkets, obesity, retail power, legal geography, law reform, Australia
The retail dominance of supermarkets in Australia: a growing geography of pseudo–foods and its implications for obesity
Drawing on the work of Winson (2004), this case study identifies the large percentages of 'pseudo foods' (beverages containing high levels of sugars and fats) on the shelves of two major supermarkets in Melbourne, Australia. The shelving space devoted to unhealthy foods in the supermarkets surveyed is estimated at around 40%. The methodology used for the case study involved the mapping of supermarket shelf space with the assistance of a qualified surveyor. The argument is made that the geography of retail space is a strong factor in the active shaping of consumer preferences. Although no randomised clinical trial exists linking the geography of the supermarket with rising levels of obesity, retail and marketing journals document many spatial tactics that have been employed for decades by retailers to increase sales. Products that are favoured for increased sales are generally higher profit margin items that are also usually unhealthy products. The article calls for the greater regulation of supermarket space. Codes or laws should reflect the growing prominence of retail actors in the food system. Restrictions on the percentages of unhealthy foods stocked and the placement of these products at checkouts are examples of regulation aimed at increasing retail responsibility.