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Gillian Hopkinson

Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Lancaster University

From my previous professional career I developed an interest in marketing channels - or routes to market - and in the relationships between suppliers, retailers and consumers. I have pursued these interests academically through a PhD that examined franchisor franchisee relationships in car retailing and subsequently in a variety of sectors, most especially the FMCG/grocery sector.

My initial conceptual interests in power, narrative and sensemaking in marketing channels lead me now to take a rather unconventional approach in my studies. I am particularly interested in how the multiple parties in the channel make sense of their world and how they communicate that to influence others. This in turn has led me to encompass a broader definition than that which would classically be defined as 'the marketing channel'. Actors such as government, the media and consumer groups can also be very active in making and negotiating sense and these actors can be very influential in shaping availability of and access to products. This approach seems particularly apposite with respect to the routes to market for food - and this lies at the centre of my recent and current work.

In recent projects I have examined markets and access to food around two 'controversies', the male dairy calf and sustainable fish. With both there is a confusion of ways of understanding and interpreting the issues. Both have been debated in public arenas such as the media. In both cases key actors involved in developing and asserting a way of understanding the issues have included celebrity chefs, activist groups, food producers, retailers and governments. Both demonstrate the effects of an emergent (if temporary and partial) consensus that is important in shaping the ways of working amongst food producers and retailers, the availability of particular foods in retail and our access to foods as consumers. This approach shares some common terrain with those from other disciplines who are exploring food systems, my distinctive marketing-based contribution lies in the particular attention I pay to the food industry and retail as important participants in broader sensemaking systems.

I would welcome approaches from organisations, researchers or prospective PhD students who share some of my interests in food controversies, food systems and food access. Important topics of the moment that share some characteristics I have mentioned above include (but are not limited to) questions of nutrition and especially sugar and also genetically modified foods.

As a brief guide to publications that will help elucidate my approach - my publication with Keith Blois in the International Journal of Management Reviews (2014) introduces the role of sensemaking and negotiation as overlooked aspects of power in marketing channels. Using the male dairy calf case, my paper in Industrial Marketing Management (2015) explains and illustrates how sensemaking and subsequent managerial action occurs through the interaction of multiple parties. The chapter in Untold Stories in Organizations (2015) takes a more longitudinal approach to show how 'the issue' with respect to male dairy calves has been defined and re-defined. Recent work with James Cronin in The Journal of Marketing Management (2015) explores changing access to sustainable fish, especially as this was defined through celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Fish Fight.

I have worked with several major companies, most especially through collaborative sector-wide groups. For example, research I undertook and reported to The Responsible Alcohol Sales Group fed into the development of a new inter-agency collaborative approach to reduce alcohol sales and harm amongst young people (Community Alcohol Partnerships).


  • –present
    Deputy Head of Department, Marketing