Zero Hunger Lab

“The processes behind nanostores are not yet efficient”

Science Works 2 min. New Scientist

More than half of the world’s population gets their food from small family stores. Jan Fransoo, professor of operations and logistics management, researches such nanostores.

Jan Fransoo

Why are small family stores in developing countries so important?

“My research group estimates that there are 50 million such stores worldwide, providing food for 4 billion people. They are family stores of about 10 square meters where you can buy food in, for example, Asia and South America. They have different names in each country; we call them nanostores. Nanostores are important for employment and for neighborhood consumers. Shopkeepers have close contacts. Governments can take advantage of this, for example by distributing vitamins through these stores to raise awareness of health.”


Pictured: Professor of operations and logistics management Jan Fransoo

How do you research nanostores?

“Ten years ago, I began this research by riding along on trucks supplying stores in Latin America. This allowed me to figure out the processes behind nanostores. We approached companies and now we are getting data from suppliers who service the stores, such as trucks’ GPS tracks. We also work with local universities. In Mexico, for example, we had one square kilometer of a city at our disposal to study whether monitored loading and unloading areas could help make better use of space and reduce truck parking time. This turned out to work well.”

Isn’t it very inefficient that there are so many little stores?

“Many of the nanostores’ processes are not yet efficient. My colleagues and I analyze how they can be improved. In Mexico, for example, 70 percent of the population has no bank account; people there often pay in lots of change. Shopkeepers also pay their suppliers in cash, and handling that kind of payment takes time. However, the vast majority of the population does have a cell phone. We are, therefore, looking at whether payment via a digital wallet could work efficiently. Shopkeepers can top up the wallet with cash and then pay their suppliers using QR codes. With concepts like this, we are trying to accelerate distribution.”

Text: Marleen Hoebe

Photo: Bram Belloni

Publication date: 27 September 2022