For three years, a team of researchers from the Department of Sociology and Social Research of the University of Trento has monitored the Italian market of online food retailers to understand how it works, studied the shopping habits of those who do not shop at large-scale retailers and buy, for example, through Solidarity Purchasing Groups (Gas), and analyzed the profile of digital consumers. As the project draws to an end, the main findings of the research project will be discussed in a national online event (on Zoom) that will take place on Saturday 22 May, from 10.30 to 13.00, on "Le pratiche alternative di approvvigionamento alimentare: dai Gas all'e-commerce di prossimità. Un confronto a partire dai risultati del progetto europeo Plateforms".
The online meeting will start with the presentation of the findings, which will be followed by a round table on the various platforms and close with a discussion on online food purchases and 0 km food.
The European project Plateforms, supported by the Italian Ministry of University and Research and the EU program Horizon 2020, involved five European universities: Oslo Metropolitan University (Norway, project leader); the University College of Cork (Ireland); the University of Gothenburg (Sweden); Humbold University Berlin (Germany) and the University of Trento (Italy).
The group of scholars of the University of Trento, the only Italian university participating in the project, investigated the potential of technological and social innovation to promote more sustainable food systems and practices.
Francesca Forno, professor of the Department of Sociology and Social Research at the University of Trento and project coordinator for Italy, comments: "Technologies such as the internet and apps can facilitate food purchasing systems that are alternative to large-scale retailers. However, to become a real sustainable alternative, these systems need new ways of producing, exchanging and consuming food, that must evolve and become part of social relations and daily habits. Besides, even "offline" shopping can promote sustainable alternatives, as in the case with solidarity purchasing groups or organic shops".
The project developed in three phases. First, researchers studied the landscape of food e-commerce platforms. In the second phase, they examined daily shopping practices outside of large-scale retailers using in-depth interviews. In the third phase, consumers who use digital platforms were asked to fill out a questionnaire so that researchers could create a profile and identify their shopping behavior and evolution over time.
Alice Dal Gobbo, a researcher at the Department of Sociology and Social Research at the University of Trento, says: "We decided to conduct the interviews in Milan because, three years ago, it was one of the few Italian cities where online food platforms were used. Then, because of the pandemic and the lockdown periods, the new online food services became more popular".
She continues: "Covid-19 hit about halfway through the project. It hindered our research work but, on the other hand, it also created a sort of living laboratory. The lockdown experience, in fact, forced many families into new habits and that is why many of them started to shop online. Part of the interviews and the questionnaire also aimed to collect data on these transformations".
Francesca Forno anticipates some conclusions: "The project suggests that social and technological innovations in food consumption encourage access to "quality food": tasty, wholesome, seasonal, organic or natural food, sourced from producers that treat workers fairly, and which reconnects consumers, producers and the land. Especially in cities where food supply is dominated by large-scale retailers, innovations are important "food hubs" for promoting sustainable diets and food practices".
At the same time, she warns: "This mode of consumption still has to address some challenges. On a practical level, consumers have to adjust their daily routine to the shopping platform. In addition to this, online food shopping often attracts middle-class people, for the most part. And finally, e-commerce platforms are not always accurate in their legal terms and as concerns consumer information".
About the Plateforms project
Plateforms (ERA-Net SUSFOOD2 Sustainable Food Platforms: Enabling food practices through socio-technical innovation) was supported by funds allocated by the Italian Ministry of University and Research, and co-funded by the EU research and innovation program Horizon 2020 (Grant number 356 - 01/03/2019).
For more information: https://uni.oslomet.no/plateforms/
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