Lebensmittel-Onlinehandel - Alternative zur zukünftigen Versorgung der Bevölkerung ländlicher Räume?

Aachen (2018, 2019) [Dissertation / PhD Thesis]

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Motivation and goals of the investigation: The industrialized and highly developed states of Western Europe face great economic and societal challenges due to their demographic change and ensuing development in population. In Germany, the associated processes of population aging, shrinkage and heterogenization proceed spatially differentiated and sometimes offset in time. As a result, regions with diverging development perspectives are emerging, which have a direct impact on the living conditions of local people. In combination with a continuing structural change in the food retail sector, this has consequences for ensuring a spatially inclusive and comprehensive qualifying local supply. In many places, facilities for the provision of services of general interest have to be adjusted or closed, since their economic viability can no longer be guaranteed under changing demographic conditions. Providing a qualifying local food supply is a special case against this background. In contrast to many other areas of services of general interest, it is organized privately and thus subject to the forces of the free market. If the economic conditions change, the profit-oriented companies of the food retailing sector will adapt their local supply infrastructures. In regions with falling demand caused by migration, shrinkage or aging of the population, the economic viability of food businesses declines. Under these conditions, companies reduce their investment in their local store networks. As a result, the number of facilities and the accessibility of grocery stores worsened. This applies in particular to the immobile populations of peripheral rural regions. The requirements of spatial planning are often no longer met here in terms of accessibility or range equipment. In this field of tension, local supply solutions that are organized in the sense of "services to people", where goods or services are brought to the customer, are becoming increasingly important. Against this background digitization opens up new and innovative solutions to close possible local supply gaps and to overcome accessibility problems. The core of the investigation constitutes of the question to which extent online grocery, as a new form of service, can contribute to securing the rural population’s daily food supply. Hence, it had to be questioned whether there is currently any need for online grocery services in rural areas and how this can be determined. In order to estimate an online grocery potential it was further investigated how the demand will develop in the future. If a demand could be identified it had to be checked whether online grocery business models exist which would be able to meet a potential future need. Methods used: To answer the central issues, the administrative district "Vulkaneifel" in Rhineland-Palatinate was selected as a research area. The research topic „Online grocery potentials in rural areas“ is examined from the perspective of the consumers, the suppliers and a spatial interaction model. For this end a combination of qualitative and quantitative empirical methods is applied. To determine the demand-side potentials, a standardized household survey was conducted involving 1,398 households. Insights into opportunities and barriers on the supply-side were gained through 14 interviews with experts of industry and academia. In addition to statistical data and information from the secondary literature, this knowledge is integrated into the development, operationalization and calibration of a spatial interaction model. It analyses and forecasts the expected turnover of the food businesses in the studyarea. The modeling approach relies on time-series data and aims to predict future changes in the food retail network infrastructure until 2035. The results of the methods applied are used to identify potential future consumer needs or reasons for alternatives to guarantee local food supply. Gained insights: Although the local food supply infrastructure of the research area in the study area has been subject to structural change in the past and the quality of the local supply situation has deteriorated, the consumers rate their local supply situation still positively at the time of the survey in 2015. Only the decline of the accessibility of the grocery stores suggests a possible need for alternatives. However, many households still do not see any need to consider other options because they are aware of the living conditions in rural areas and have adjusted their shopping behavior. But less mobile or under-funded households are already forced to resort to alternatives under these circumstances. However, online grocery has currently only a marginal relevance for the people of the Vulkaneifel as shown by the results of the household survey. More than half of all respondents, especially today’s older consumers, categorically refuse its use. In addition, online grocery shoppers do not use it to cover their daily grocery needs, but primarily to purchase products that they can not otherwise purchase locally. The daily food requirement is still satisfied by the different types of businesses in the stationary food retailing sector. The ongoing structural change in the study area will be reinforced in the future by the effects of demographic change. As demand continues to decline, food retailing companies will adjust their store networks and continue to cut back their geographical presence. Due to the spatial concentration process consumers have to travel longer distances in order to purchase their groceries. At one point, there will thus be a greater need for alternatives to stationary food retailing stores in the future. The big difference between today’s and future’s consumer is the fact that future consumers have much greater experience with the Internet and online commerce. As a result, they are also more willing to accept the different business models of online grocery as an alternative for their daily grocery needs.



Mensing, Matthias


Neiberger, Cordula Sylke
Rauh, Jürgen


  • REPORT NUMBER: RWTH-2019-02683