E-food Desert Index

E-food Desert Index (2020)

The E-food Desert Index (EFDI) is a composite index which measures accessibility to groceries, recently co-published by the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) in conjunction with Dr Andy Newing at the University of Leeds. The index looks at:

  • Proximity and density of grocery retail stores
  • Transport time and distance
  • Public transport accessibility
  • Demographic characteristics of neighbourhoods which affect food access (car availability, income poverty)
  • Online grocery retailer availability and propensity for online shopping.

The index and map identify a new driver of inequalities in access to groceries - 'e-food deserts' - which are remoter parts of the capital that suffer comparatively poor access to both physical retail and limited provision of online grocery services.

The map shown here is excerpted for London, based on the wider index for England and Wales which was split into deciles. Areas shown as being in the worst 10% (decile 1) are, therefore, in the worst 10% for the whole of England/Wales. London's urban nature with its higher population density, retail opportunity and prevalent infrastructure means that we would reasonably expect it to have few such areas of e-food deserts when comparing across the nations; however, there still are several small areas which do fall into the worst category, and plenty more which fall into the next two deciles. These general areas of e-food deserts are shown in darker purple colours on the map and include traditionally deprived parts of London such as the Lea Valley, Southall and Perivale, as well as wealthy but more rural corners like northern part of Havering borough, where substantial older populations with typically reduced internet usage live, often in established communities that may have very limited local physical grocery provision either.

The 10 biggest e-food deserts in Greater London (all 10 are in the worst 10% for England/Wales, with the first two in the worst 5%):

  1. Sewardstone Road/Kings Hill area, Chingford, E4.
  2. Gurnell Grove area, Castle Bar Park, W13.
  3. Briar Road area, Harold Hill, RM3.
  4. Ellis Road/Goodenough Way, Old Coulsdon CR5.
  5. Edmonton Green, N9.
  6. Hillside and Craven Park, Stonebridge, NW10.
  7. Clapton Park Estate, E7.
  8. King's/Queen's Avenues, Greenford Park, UB6.
  9. South Acton Estate, W3.
  10. SW side of New Addington, CR0.

Some of the areas in the top 10 typically appear as deprived when looking at more traditional measures of poverty such as income deprivation or accessibility. However, some are in relatively affluent districts, and in places that have a robust traditional grocery offering. Their e-food desert status may simply be due to, for example, being a traditionally wealthy area that nonetheless has a high proportion of retirees, low car ownership and public transport accessibility, and a relatively low level of engagement with internet services, so that the grocery offerings that are available in the area may not be easy to access.

By contrast, a great many areas in London have an excellent provision of groceries, via both offline and online sources, and an population able to take advantage of the options. The map shows many such areas in dark green, these include both areas of inner and outer London, such as Bexley, central Harrow, Teddington, Muswell Hill, Fulham, Wimbledon, Chelsea and the City of London.

With the COVID-19 pandemic requiring social distancing, online delivery services, which were already on the ascendancy, have rapidly gained popularity throughout the year as a method of avoiding potentially crowded supermarkets. They have become an increasingly important option for food purchasing and therefore their inclusion in the index is important. 25% of the EFDI scoring weight is scored by online retail data, split equally into two components capturing both supply and demand in the e-sector. The online grocery availability scoring was calculated by examining the home delivery service websites of major grocery retailers, and summing available services in each small area The second component, a score for consumer propensity for online shopping, was obtained from a related product, the Internet User Classification, also published by the CDRC.

For further information about EFDI, including a technical user guide, please see https://data.cdrc.ac.uk/dataset/e-food-desert-index.