Research by Professor Neil Wrigley and colleagues has helped transform thinking on food retail development, its role in sustaining viable town centres and the future of UK high streets.

Impact

  • Professor Wrigley's research influenced national and international debates on food deserts and attempts to reduce the impact of local food environments encouraging obesity, via invited presentations to the British Retail Consortium , the All-Party Parliamentary Food and Health Group, the World Economic Forum, and the US National Academies. He also provided evidence supporting the development of regeneration partnership stores in deprived UK urban communities
  • The research influenced UK competition policy relating to the retail sector via contributions to the Competition Commission’s Groceries Market Investigation 2006-08, and reinvigorated thinking in UK planning community about retail development
  • Professor Wrigley was appointed the sole academic member of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s policy advisory group the Future High Streets Forum, shaping debates on the future of UK high streets
  • His research collaborations with Tesco and Sainsbury helped change UK retailers' appreciation of the value of evidence-based research and knowledge exchange with social science
  • Professor Wrigley is Director of the ESRC Retail Industry Business Engagement Network, increasing opportunity for young researchers to engage with the business sector.

"Professor Neil Wrigley's rigorous, balanced and evidence-based report has made a timely and important contribution to the debate about the nation’s high streets." (Philip Clarke, Chief Executive, Tesco plc)

About the research

Over the last decade, Professor Neil Wrigley has led a University of Southampton research team whose pioneering work on food retailing has changed the debate on retail sector practices, contributed to government policy, and helped convince key industry players of the value of large-scale, high quality academic research.

Over a decade ago, Professor Wrigley embarked on groundbreaking research into the problems of food access in deprived urban communities (commonly referred to as 'food deserts'). His work is widely acknowledged to have influenced national and international policy regarding retail-led urban regeneration. In the USA, for example, the importance of access to healthy foods has become a cornerstone of the Obama administration's food policy, and underpins a recent ambitious large-scale experiment set up in Philadelphia to eradicate food deserts.

In the UK, Professor Wrigley's pioneering three-year study of the impact of new 'in-centre' and 'edge-of-centre' supermarket development is widely used in planning proposals and enquiries. The findings provided evidence that, contrary to widely expressed fears, new supermarket development does not necessarily lead to less trade in the town centre, but rather encourages local shopping overall. Professor Wrigley's research is now relied upon not only by retailers but by the urban planning community and other stakeholders.

More recently, Professor Wrigley's work on the impact of the 2007-09 global economic crisis on UK town centres is helping to shape thinking on the future of Britain's high streets. "We have tried to understand which town centres coped better than others during the recent economic crisis, what that implies about the future resilience of our towns, and what type of high street will have the best future," he explains. This understanding is proving vital to developing policy focused on revitalising UK town centres.