Social supermarkets, nutritional implications and healthy eating: exploration of members and their views

Mulrooney, Hilda M., Ranta, Ronald, Nancheva, Nevena, Bhakta, Dee and Lake, Stef (2023) Social supermarkets, nutritional implications and healthy eating: exploration of members and their views. Journal of Human Nutrition & Dietetics, 36 (5). pp. 2108-2120. ISSN 1365-277X


The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the need for food support but simultaneously enabled substantial innovation in food support provision, including the evolution of social supermarkets (SSM). These allow consumers to choose from a range of low-cost products, minimise stigma and reduce food waste. Data from members of two Sussex SSM were gathered for their perspectives and experiences, as well as potential nutritional implications of the SSM.

Questionnaires administered face-to-face during site visits and optional telephone interviews were used. Data were collected during three site visits; 111 participants completed questionnaires, and an additional 25 detailed interviews with members of the SSM were completed. All data were gathered between December 2021 and May 2022.

Overall, the SSMs were valued by their members. Social, economic and nutritional benefits were identified. SSM increased consumer choice and reduced stigma. Most members visited regularly, using SSM to supplement other food purchases. They valued the opportunity to choose their own foods and opportunities to socialise, in addition to the range of food and household items offered. The majority agreed that healthy eating was important but time and cost were barriers especially for younger members. SSM introduced members to novel foods and dishes, potentially diversifying dietary intakes. Challenges included restrictions on the amounts of food available, depending on the timing of visits. This was a greater challenge for those more reliant on SSM for household needs.

SSM represent an innovative and less stigmatising model of food support. Greater variety of food offered suggests their potential to diversify and improve dietary intakes. Challenges include ensuring stability of food supply and reducing stigma further.

Key points:
Social supermarkets represent a beneficial shift from the foodbank model offering more choice and less stigmatisation, with the potential to contribute towards healthy nutritional intakes.

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