A commentary I published in the Journal of Marketing Management, “Can consumers buy alternative foods at a big box supermarket?”, is now available online (and free for the month of May). It’s part of a special issue that considers the question of “alternatives” in food and drink markets (Eds. J Smith Maguire, J Lang and D Watson). I use a case study of ethical meat to consider the diverse, often contradictory ideals that inform consumers’ search for alternatives to mainstream market options.
I propose three main takeaways. 1) The goal of producing consumer alternatives is significantly hampered by the competing, and often contradictory demands of market forces. 2) The discourse of food alternatives uses a ‘win-win’ logic suggesting that consumers don’t have to sacrifice anything or change their habits. I believe that consumer projects for ecological and social change face a necessary but exceptionally challenging task of reshaping, and even downgrading consumer expectations. 3) Although I’m deeply sympathetic to the desire to “feel good” about shopping, the search for eco-social alternatives cannot simply make consumers feel good about their purchases. Food ‘alternatives’ have to go beyond feel good feelings, and address the material realities and limitations of niche markets.