ABSTRACT

Processors and manufacturers occupy only one sector in the complex marketing chain for food between agricultural producers and consumers. Until recently political economy accounts of agriculture and food were relatively silent on the non-food industry sectors, such as food retailers, relying on an assumed relationship between mass food production, on the one hand, and class-based food consumption on the other hand. A more critical appreciation of the varied relationships between food consumers and food retail capital has emerged over the last two decades, however, perhaps best illustrated by the writings of Fine et al. (1996), Ritson et al. (1986) and Wrigley and Lowe (1996). Fine et al. (1996, 13-26), for example, show how a multidisciplinary approach is needed to investigate the increasingly fragmented marketing chain, in which food has to be interpreted as both a physical and social object once consumers are entered into the analysis. These authors offer the concept of ‘systems of provision’ (SoP) to describe the vertically integrated marketing chain, but differentiated by commodity and national context, between farm gate and consumer household. Indeed their argument relies on consumer differentiation through features such as gender, ethnicity, household structure and age of consumer, rather than social class, to explain the varied relationships between consumers and the food they eat.