HomeFrom Field to Plate: Intermediary Stages and Actors of Food Systems in the Norths and Souths

HomeFrom Field to Plate: Intermediary Stages and Actors of Food Systems in the Norths and Souths

From Field to Plate: Intermediary Stages and Actors of Food Systems in the Norths and Souths

Du champ à l’assiette : étapes et acteurs intermédiaires des circuits alimentaires dans les Nords et dans les Suds

Revue EchoGéo

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Published on Monday, July 05, 2021 by Céline Guilleux


L’attention s’est beaucoup portée ces dernières années sur le rôle que jouent des circuits courts. Le rôle et les stratégies des acteurs intermédiaires sont peu pris en compte dans la réflexion sur la durabilité alimentaire. Ils représentent pourtant la majeure partie des pratiques d’achat des consommateurs et jouent un rôle important dans les transitions alimentaires que connaissent les sociétés et les territoires, dans les Nords comme dans les Suds – quand ils ne la portent pas presque exclusivement, comme par exemple en Amérique latine. L’appel à article de la revue EchoGéo vise à s'interroger sur le rôle des acteurs intermédiaires (grande distribution, plateformes numériques de livraison, grossistes, détaillants et livreurs indépendants) formels aussi bien qu’informels, leurs capacités à contribuer à la durabilité des systèmes alimentaires, leurs effets spatiaux et sociaux. Si certaines initiatives ont été mises en lumière, elles le sont rarement par une approche spatiale et multiscalaire.



The role of local circuits in the sustainability of food systems has been the object of much attention in recent years, and even more so with the health crisis (Maréchal 2008; Deverre and Lamine 2010; Chiffoleau 2019).

However, the roles and strategies played by intermediary actors (supermarkets, digital delivery platforms, wholesalers, retailers, and independent delivery agents) in the construction of these systems (Baritaux et al. 2016) remain understudied. These actors are rarely taken into account by analyses of food sustainability (Praly et al. 2014), due to mistrust or to a lack of knowledge (Lepiller and Yount-André 2019). Independent intermediaries (wholesalers, retailers, and delivery services) seem to be poorly understood by public sector bodies (Baritaux and Billion 2018). As for large-scale distribution, it is considered as forming part of the dominant industrial agri-food system (Deverre and Lamine 2010; Gottlieb and Joshi 2010).

However, these actors account for the majority of consumers’ purchasing practices (France Agrimer 2018). In 2020, they ensured the constant supply of fresh produce to consumers, while some food deserts emerged even more sharply (Ghosh-Dastidar et al. 2017). These actors play an important role in the food transitions undergone by societies and territories in the Norths as well as in the Souths, even accounting for the almost totality of these transitions in areas such as Latin America. They are sometimes the only providers of fresh produce in certain urban areas, as has been shown in the United States (Gottlieb and Joshi 2010). Some of these actors set up initiatives to promote local produce and develop marketing strategies based on proximity. Large-scale retail outlets have developed drive-thru stores and local brands, and created of supermarkets in city centers. In independent retail, new phenomena include the development of local wholesale retail, last mile logistics, local brands promoting wholesale markets (e.g. in France the role played by the Fédération des Marchés de Gros, or Federation of Wholesale Markets), etc. While some of these initiatives have been highlighted (Soula et al., 2020), they are rarely examined through a spatial and multiscalar approach.

This call for papers aims to develop a thematic issue that will examine the role of intermediary actors (large-scale retail, digital delivery platforms, wholesalers, retailers and independent delivery services), both formal and informal, along with their ability to contribute to the sustainability of food systems, and their spatial and social effects. Contributions may focus on the Norths or the Souths in order to understand convergences and specificities, putting into perspective these intermediary actors’ contribution to recent or ongoing food transitions.

Paper proposals may fit into one or more of the following three thematic areas:

The role of intermediary actors’ strategies in the relocalization and territorialization of food systems and their spatial consequences

This first angle of research will examine how intermediary actors participate in food transitions, and analyze social and spatial consequences at all scales. In particular, contributions may examine the role of intermediary actors in providing fair access to food. In France and North America, large-scale distribution is being challenged as to its ability to provide consumers with sustainable foods (Gottlieb and Joshi 2010; Paturel and Ramel 2017). On the contrary, independent wholesalers and wholesale markets are engaging in schemes that aim to give economically vulnerable populations access to fresh produce (Paturel and Ramel 2017). Are these actors’ strategies evolving towards more relocalization and proximity? What are the spatial consequences of these strategies on the different links of the food system? Can these strategies contribute to excluding certain territories or even to creating new inequalities? How do intermediary actors engage with and challenge scales, from local to global? Contributions may investigate other geographical areas than those mentioned above, to enrich the analyses and the debate.

From city to country: differentiated actors and practices in food logistics

The actors of food logistics are not uniformly deployed across territories. Some operate mainly in urban and metropolitan centers but are absent from small and medium-sized cities or rural areas, served by other logistics operators who are less present in cities. We will welcome contributions analyzing the policies of large international actors in food transport and logistics (digital platforms, mass retail, logistics providers), as well as the strategies of smaller actors who operate by bicycle, scooter or utility vehicles and act as subcontractors at the beginning or end of the distribution chain, especially in the context of the development of e-commerce (Mareï, 2016). Contributions may examine these actors’ spatial distribution and its consequences in terms of logistical organization for each territory. They may also highlight the reliance of food logistics on informal or precarious work (from the precarious status of digital platform delivery workers in metropolitan centers to that of transporters in out-of-town platforms such as the MIN in Rungis).

Spatial and temporal conflicts of scale between public policies and the strategies of intermediary actors

Recent studies in France have shown that intermediary actors, particularly independent ones, are not much involved in food governance policies (Baritaux and Billion, 2018). There is indeed a tension between the spatial and temporal scales at which public policies operate and those of intermediate actors. In their management of administrative territorial scales, public authorities hardly consider intermediate actors who operate between the local and the global scale. The notion of sustainability implies a long-term vision ‘for the future generations’, and policies are built and negotiated over the long term (for example the Common Agricultural Policy), while intermediary actors, particularly in food logistics, increasingly operate according to a logic of immediacy and on a just-in-time basis. These tensions raise questions as to the possibility of integrating these actors into policies, considering the challenges posed by the integration of their spatial and temporal dimensions. Proposals may analyze how intermediary actors are taken into account, and under what modalities, by territorial food policies (for example in France, the PATs or Territorial Food Projects, and the PLUs or Local Urban Plans; land ownership policies, etc.) and agricultural policies (e.g. CAP), but also the strategies of intermediary actors in response to public policies, in a context where the different actors’ spatial and temporal scales come into conflict. 

Contributions must be based on empirical research and may include case studies focusing on a particular field or comparative analyses.

Submission guidelines

The papers, written in French, English or Spanish, should be in the region of 35,000 to 40,000 characters (plus illustrations). Please refer to contributor guidelines for our text formatting, bibliography, abstract and illustration standards as indicated in our editorial standards. We also welcome proposals for articles on the same theme for Echogeo’s other quarterly sections: Sur le Métier (“On the Job”), Sur l’Écrit (“On Writing”) and Sur l’Image (“On Image”). Contributions must comply with these sections’ criteria, as detailed in our editorial guidelines https://journals.openedition.org/echogeo/1927. For instance, the editors of the Sur l’Image section welcome contributions that investigate the status of image in research and/or geographic writing.

Please send your proposal by the 15th November

to this issue’s coordinators, Cécile Faliès  (cecile.falies@univ-paris1.fr) and Magali Hulot (magali.hulot@parisnanterre.fr), with a copy to Editorial Secretary Karine Delaunay (EchoGeo@univ-paris1.fr) who will forward the proposals to the peer reviewers. Contributions will be published in issue #60 (April-June 2022).

Co-ordinators of this issue

Cécile Faliès is a Senior Lecturer at Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne University and a member of UMR PRODIG; Magali Hulot is completing a PhD at Paris-Nanterre University within the LAVUE research lab.


Baritaux V., Billion C., 2018. Rôle et place des détaillants et grossistes indépendants dans la relocalisation des systèmes alimentaires : perspectives de recherche. Revue de l’organisation responsable, vol. 13, n° 1, p. 17‑28.

Baritaux V., Billion C., 2016. Les intermédiaires de la distribution dans la relocalisation des systèmes alimentaires : perspectives de recherche. RIODD 2016, Saint-Étienne. URL: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01349971/document

Chiffoleau Y., 2019. Les circuits courts alimentaires. Érès.

Deverre C., Lamine C., 2010. LU Les systèmes agroalimentaires alternatifs. Une revue de travaux anglophones en sciences sociales. Économie rurale. Agricultures, alimentations, territoires [En ligne], no 317, p. 57‑73. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/economierurale.2676

France Agrimer, 2018. Évolution des dépenses alimentaires des ménages dans les circuits de distribution de 2008 à 2017. France Agrimer.

Ghosh-Dastidar M., et al., 2017. Does opening a supermarket in a food desert change the food environment? Health Place, n° 46, p. 249-256.

Gottlieb R., Joshi A., 2010. Food Justice. MIT Press. The MIT Press.

Lepiller O., Chelsie Y.-A., 2019. La politisation de l’alimentation ordinaire par le marché. Revue des sciences sociales [En ligne], n° 61. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/revss/3901 - DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/revss.3901

Mareï N., Aguiléra A., Belton-Chevallier L., et al., 2016. Pratiques et lieux du e-commerce alimentaire. Netcom [En ligne], vol. 30, n° 1/2, p. 119-138. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/netcom/2349 - DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/netcom.2349

Maréchal G., 2008. Les circuits courts alimentaires. Éducagri éditions.

Paturel D., Ramel, M., 2017. Éthique du care et démocratie alimentaire : les enjeux du droit à une alimentation durable. Revue francaise d’ethique appliquée, n° 4, p. 49‑60.

Praly C., Chazoule C., Delfosse C., Mundler P., 2014. Les circuits de proximité, cadre d’analyse de la relocalisation des circuits alimentaires. Géographie, économie, société, vol. 16, n° 4, p. 455‑78.

Raimond C., Faliès C., Proust A., Tallet B., à paraître. La transition alimentaire, un modèle unique ?, Développement, changements globaux et dynamique des territoires. Théories, approches et perspectives de recherche. Éditions ISTE.

Soula A., Yount-André C., Lepiller O., Bricas N., 2020. Manger en ville. Regards socio-anthropologiques d'Afrique, d'Amérique latine et d'Asie. Versailles, Éd. Quae, 175 p.


  • Monday, November 15, 2021


  • circuit alimentaire, transition alimentaire, intermédiaire, ville-campagne, politique publique


  • Cécile Faliès
    courriel : cecile [dot] falies [at] univ-paris1 [dot] fr
  • Hulot Magali
    courriel : magali [dot] hulot [at] parisnanterre [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Karine Delaunay
    courriel : karine [dot] delaunay [at] ird [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« From Field to Plate: Intermediary Stages and Actors of Food Systems in the Norths and Souths », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, July 05, 2021, https://calenda.org/893920

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