Yale to Host Conference on Competition Issues in America’s Grocery Stores

supermarket aisle

The Thurman Arnold Project at Yale (TAP @ Yale), the Information Society Project (ISP) at Yale Law School, and the Yale Sustainable Food Program (YSFP) will host “Reforming America’s Food Retail Markets,” a conference on how antitrust enforcement and competition policy can improve food retail markets in America. The conference will take place on Saturday, March 13 at the Graduate New Haven Hotel. The conference is open to the public.

Reforming America's Food Retail Markets program cover
The conference comes at a time when a growing tide of scholars, lawmakers, and members of the public at large have expressed increasing concern that food retail corporations have obtained too much market power, according to the organizers. Over the past several decades, the number of grocery stores nationwide has sharply declined, while the market share of the four largest retailers has substantially increased. Walmart alone accounts for $1 out of every $3 spent at grocery retailers. Technology exacerbates the power asymmetries. These transformations have had profound effects on small businesses, food access, public health, wages, the environment, and more.

“Over these past few years, many of us have thought more carefully about what we buy and how we shop for groceries,” said Austin Frerick, Deputy Director of TAP. “It’s more critical than ever that consumers understand the lack of competition and the level of consolidation in an industry they interact with almost every day.”

“This conference will bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars dedicated to address concentration in retail food markets,” said Nikolas Guggenberger, Executive Director of the ISP, “and I look forward to novel and creative policy suggestions.”

The conference will feature six panels covering a wide range of topics: “Meat & Dairy,” “Competition Issues,” “Legal Issues,” “Issues for Low-Income Americans,” “Online Shopping,” and “Alternative Systems,” as well as a keynote address from journalist Eric Schlosser, whose 2001 bestseller, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, reinvigorated debate over the trajectory of America’s food system. In total, 20 papers were selected to present at the conference, and their authors range from journalists and academics to enforcers and policymakers. Papers include: 

  • The Northeast Dairy Dilemma: How to Regulate a Firm with an 85% Market Share of Conventional Milk Processing? by Pete Hardin
  • Trouble in the Safety Zone: Information Sharing in the Meat Processing Industry by Sachin Holdheim and Zaakir Tameez
  • The Impact of Food Retail Mergers and Acquisitions on Food Prices and Food Access: Evidence from California by Ricky Volpe
  • How to Stop Stop & Shop’s Anti-Competitive Land-Acquisition Tactics by Karissa Kang
  • Exploring Consumer Data Privacy and Retailer Competition Within the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot by Isabelle Foster, Charlie Hoffs, Angelina Polselli, and Kyle Winterboer
  • Smile! You’re On Camera: Data Collection in Food Retailing Markets by Matene Alikhani and Bruno Renzett

After the conference, each presenter’s introductory 10-minute talk will be published as a public resource for others interested in these topics, and a written summary of the conference presentations will be made available as well.

Register online for the conference.

Read the full conference guide.

The Information Society Project (ISP) is an intellectual center at Yale Law School, founded in 1997 by Professor Jack Balkin. Over the past 25 years, the ISP has grown from a handful of people gathering to discuss internet governance into an international community working to illuminate the complex relationships between law, technology, and society.

The Thurman Arnold Project (TAP) launched in fall 2019 in response to the growing interest in competition enforcement from scholars, students, and the general public. The project is named in honor of Thurman Arnold, Yale Law Professor and head of the Antitrust Division from 1938–43, to capture the intellectual and enforcement tradition he represented, as well as his zeal for achieving competitive markets for the people of the United States. The project was founded by Professor Fiona Scott Morton, an economist at the Yale School of Management, and is designed to bring together Yale scholars and students who are interested in antitrust to engage with one another and create rigorous antitrust research and policy, disseminate it, and enable links to enforcement and regulatory policy.

The Yale Sustainable Food Program (YSFP) serves as a cross-disciplinary hub for research and teaching on food systems at Yale. YSFP staff and students operate the Yale Farm on the main campus, bringing field-based practical experience into courses on subjects ranging from anthropology to zoology. YSFP staff work to develop new instructional materials, courses, and practicum opportunities that engage Yale students with current concepts and controversies affecting food and agriculture today. The program offers a range of stipends and fellowships for domestic and international travel and study, and increasingly works as a collaborator in multi-institution research networks. In partnership with international collaborators, the YSFP is currently researching the varied social, economic, and political implications associated with the adoption of new information technologies into farming and agri-food supply chains.