Past Project : Local Economy

Competition in the Informal Grocery Retail Sector
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A national study of competitiveness and other activities in the informal retail grocery sector

Lead: Dr Leif Petersen
Project manager: Camilla Thorogood
Funders and Partners: Competition Commission of South Africa, Centre of Excellence in Food Security, UWC Forensics DNA Lab, Economics of Tobacco Control (UCT), Good Governance Africa


In March 2017 an SLF research team including Leif Petersen, Nathi Tshabalala, Anthony Muteti and Camilla Thorogood commenced a nationwide township study of informal grocery retailers for the Competition Commission of South Africa as part of their commission in inquiry into competition in retail grocery markets. Building on SLF’s prior township studies the team travelled over 9,000km and interviewed a total of 1,181 informal retail grocery outlets. The researchers specifically investigated the dynamics of the township spaza shop trade. The purpose of the research was to understand the changing socio economic, political and informal dimensions within which the spaza market operates in South African townships.

The study included a number of collaborations; firstly, with the National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security to extend the competition study to include retailed foods in the township economy. This included the purchasing of samples of over 100 polony sausages from wholesalers, butchers and local supermarkets for analysis at the University of the Western Cape forensics laboratory; collecting data on grey market and counterfeit foods traded within these environments (including imports, expired goods or contraband products); and finally through the purchase of locally retailed fruit and vegetables for analysis for chemical residues.

Secondly the SLF team supported the Economics of Tobacco Control project at the University of Cape Town in a nationwide cigarette purchasing and demand study. The purpose of this work was to understand the scope and scale of the cigarette trade (both legal, and illegal) in the township economy.

Thirdly, SLF partnered with Good Governance Africa to support their study of local governance in the Bizana region of the Eastern Cape. In this case the team located over 300 local informal business enterprises and interviewed over 100 of these to hear their viewpoints on the performance of the local municipality.

Click here to view the submission that won us this work.

All the sites in which the study was conducted nationwide

Funders & Partners