of life

As a journalist it is always great to a learn a new word and mine this week, courtesy of an interesting piece in the British Medical Journal, is factoid'. To paraphrase, a factoid is an assumption that is repeated and reported so often it becomes accepted as a truth. Worryingly, according to the research, these truths' can then form the basis for government policies despite the absence of much empirical evidence.
Interestingly, the factoid singled out for criticism in the BMJ is the widespread belief that the country's poorest people are unable to buy affordable, healthy food thanks to the existence of food deserts.
Now, this is something that has been taxing the minds of many within ­ but mostly without ­ this industry for years. For starters, it was the subject of a major inquiry by the Social Exclusion Unit in the early days of the current government. And, more recently, it has led to a Private Members' Bill, now awaiting a second reading in Parliament. Fear not. It seems these so-called food deserts are nothing more than a factoid. Or, if you prefer, utter bunkum.
A somewhat startling finding, but one that may provide some comfort for those retailers ­ big and small ­ which took the flak in recent years for the role they were perceived to have played in creating these food deserts. It may also cause a hollow laugh or two among executives at the head offices of those retailers who found themselves being criticised while simultaneously investing millions in regeneration projects.
Sadly, the fact remains that even if the BMJ paper is read by those policy makers who perpetuated the food deserts factoid and, miraculously, they are encouraged to change their views, the damage has already been done.
Just as food manufacturers are perceived by many to be guilty of pushing unhealthy products designed to kill off us all ­ that other great factoid of our time ­ so retailers will remain guilty in the eyes of some of neglecting a core part of their customer base.
That's the harsh fact ­ not factoid ­ of life. And it's one that companies in our business know only too well.