March 7, 2024

‘Supermarketisation’ of African Food Systems: Implications and Responses

Supermarkets are a growing route to market for fresh and processed foods in many countries in Africa and are integral to food security for the continent in several ways. They increasingly act as ‘gatekeepers’ to end-consumers in food value chains, shaping the development and upgrading path of food growers and processors. This makes them a key player in the fight against climate change in the food industry, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for a third of global emissions (Crippa et al., 2021).

As part of commitments to COP26, five of the UK’s largest supermarket chains pledged to ‘halve the environmental impact of a weekly food shop by the end of the decade’, primarily through reductions in carbon emissions, deforestation, food waste and packaging (Lee, 2021). The main South African supermarket chains have also made independent commitments over the past ten years to combat climate change, releasing position statements on efforts to reduce GHG emissions; improve energy efficiency in direct operations and in supply chains; increase the use of renewable energy; encourage more sustainable sourcing (which translates to more sustainable farming and food production practices); and accelerate shifts to reusable packaging, among others.

This position paper focuses on findings from extensive research undertaken by the Centre for Competition, Regulation, and Economic Development on supermarkets and their supply chains, highlighting the challenges that suppliers (particularly SMEs) face, and the wider implications for climate change mitigation efforts. Our assessment demonstrates why it is essential to urgently engage with supermarkets for food systems transformation in Africa, and the potential for supermarkets to be at the forefront of inclusion and sustainability in food value chains.

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