“Social supermarkets (SSMs) in Europe” is a research project led by researchers of the Institute for Retailing & Marketing at WU–Vienna University of Economics and Business in Austria. The objective of the project is to provide the first overview of SSMs in Europe.

Social supermarkets are comparable to conventional supermarkets that operate in stationary outlets and primarily sell food and consumer products. The main difference of SSMs as compared to conventional supermarkets lies in a modified implementation of various retail marketing mix instruments, for example, a limited assortment and a significantly lower consumer price of approximately 50% to 70% less than regular market prices. The target group of SSMs is restricted to financially poor people, and access to the stores is controlled with the help of identification cards that are issued upon the presentation of an income statement. The stores’ limited assortments consist of surplus products that are supplied free of charge by retailing and manufacturing companies. These products are unsellable for various reasons (e.g., they are close to the expiration date, surplus products, in the wrong packaging) but still consumable. Thus, availability of merchandise is limited to what is supplied. The general goals of SSMs are to support financially poor people, prevent the wastage of food, and provide job opportunities for long-term unemployed people. Therefore, SSMs are seen by the European Commission (2010) as a simple and efficient solution beneficial to all stakeholders. The majority of SSMs are run by nonprofit organizations.

The concept of social supermarkets emerged in France in the late 1980s. By the year 2014, France has amassed the highest density of SSMs with an estimated 800 stores. In total, it is estimated that by the year of 2013, more than 1,000 stores of this new type of retailer do exist in various countries across Europe such as France, Austria, Belgium, the UK, Switzerland, Spain, Luxembourg, or Romania.

In 2011, the Institute of Retailing and Marketing at WU–Vienna University of Economics and Business published the first sector overview of SSMs with a focus on Austria (Lienbacher & Holweg, 2011). The results were published in the International Journal of Non-Profit & Public Sector Marketing in December 2011 (Holweg & Lienbacher, 2011). Presentations at congresses of ECR (Efficient-Consumer-Response) in Europe revealed a strong interest in the concept by leading international retailers as Tesco, Carrefour, or Rewe as well as manufacturers such as Unilever or Nestlé (Holweg & Steiner, 2012; Holweg & Lienbacher, 2011).

Based on the above, the research project aims to provide the first comprehensive overview of the situation of SSMs in Europe in 2014. Country specific details in the concept of SSMs such as ateliers in France or community shops in the UK will be presented. The final results and reports are projected to be available by the fall/winter of 2015.



  • European Commission (2010), “Preparatory study on food waste across EU 27 ,” final report. European Commission in association with AEA Energy, Umwelt Bundesamt and Environment and BIO Intelligence Service.
  • Holweg, C., and E. Lienbacher (2011), “Social Marketing Innovation: New Thinking in Retailing, ” Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, 23 (4), 307-326.
  • Lienbacher, E., and C. Holweg (2011), “Strukturanalyse Sozialmärkte in Österreich,” in Schriftenreihe Handel und Marketing, Vol 74, P. Schnedlitz, Peter, ed. Vienna: Institute for Retailing and Marketing.
  • Holweg, C., and E. Lienbacher (2011), Sozialmärkte aus Handelsperspektive. Facts und Figures der ersten Retail-Gesamtstudie in Österreich,” presentation at the 2011 ECR-Austria Infotag, Vienna (Nov. 16).
  •  Holweg, C., and G. Steiner, (2012), “Profit by working together to prevent supply chain waste,” presentation at the 2012 ECR Europe Conference, Brussels (May 9).

© Holweg & Lienbacher, 2015