ArticlePDF Available

Sustainability of Local and Global Food Chains: Introduction to the Special Issue

Authors:

Abstract

Sustainability assessment is one of the keys to competition by food supply chains over sustainability. The way it is conceived and embodied into decision-makers’ choices affects the competitiveness of local and global chains. Science-based assessment methodologies have made substantial progress, but uncertainties—as well as interests at stake—are high. There are no science-based methods that are able to give an unchallenged verdict over the sustainability performance of a firm, let alone a supply chain. Assessment methods are more suited for medium-large firm dimensions, as planning, monitoring, and reporting are costly. Moreover, the availability of data affects the choice of parameters to be measured, and many claims of local food are not easily measurable. To give local chains a chance to operate on a level playing field, there is the need to re-think sustainability assessment processes and tailor them to the characteristics of the analysed supply chains. We indicate seven key points on which we think scholars should focus their attention when dealing with food supply chain sustainability assessment.
sustainability
Editorial
Sustainability of Local and Global Food Chains:
Introduction to the Special Issue
Gianluca Brunori and Francesca Galli *
Department of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Pisa, via del Borghetto, 80, 56124 Pisa, Italy;
gianluca.brunoril@unipi.it
*Correspondence: francesca.galli@for.unipi.it; Tel.: +39-050-221-8979
Academic Editor: Marc A. Rosen
Received: 25 July 2016; Accepted: 26 July 2016; Published: 8 August 2016
Abstract:
Sustainability assessment is one of the keys to competition by food supply chains
over sustainability. The way it is conceived and embodied into decision-makers’ choices affects
the competitiveness of local and global chains. Science-based assessment methodologies have
made substantial progress, but uncertainties—as well as interests at stake—are high. There are
no science-based methods that are able to give an unchallenged verdict over the sustainability
performance of a firm, let alone a supply chain. Assessment methods are more suited for
medium-large firm dimensions, as planning, monitoring, and reporting are costly. Moreover, the
availability of data affects the choice of parameters to be measured, and many claims of local food
are not easily measurable. To give local chains a chance to operate on a level playing field, there is
the need to re-think sustainability assessment processes and tailor them to the characteristics of the
analysed supply chains. We indicate seven key points on which we think scholars should focus their
attention when dealing with food supply chain sustainability assessment.
Keywords: sustainability assessment; local; global; food chains
1. Sustainability as a New Terrain of Competition
According to neoclassical economic theory, market transactions are impersonal: all a buyer needs
is knowledge of the price for a given commodity. In this ideal world, when the consumer makes a
choice, she may only consider her expected utility. Many market policies tend to orientate to this
ideal state; for example, by reducing tariff barriers, simplifying labelling rules, harmonizing common
technical standards or sanitary rules, or reducing controls at borders. To guarantee the functioning
of markets, public authorities set procedures, establish information and control systems, distribute
roles and responsibilities among actors, and identify authorities to ensure that commodities are safe
and compliant with a minimum set of quality rules. All these efforts should, in theory, make the
food system a “black box” for consumers—an object whose internal mechanisms do not need to be
known as long as it works effectively. Recurrent food scandals show that these efforts are not sufficient:
free circulation of commodities on a global scale makes the system vulnerable to unforeseen and
unintended disease outbreaks and fraudulent behaviour.
Concerns and anxieties are amplified by a lack of information and transparency. As lack of
information turns into lack of trust [
1
], consumers increasingly aim at “looking into the black box”,
and increasingly shape their food choices according to new claims and aspirations of how sustainable
food systems should perform.
In reaction to these concerns, information becomes a key component of the product and an
object of competition: big players have invested in technologies, measurement tools, certification
schemes, and social reporting to develop value-based coalitions with consumers and improve their
sustainability performance.
Sustainability 2016,8, 765; doi:10.3390/su8080765 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Sustainability 2016,8, 765 2 of 7
The availability of information on a product changes the product itself, differentiating it from
similar products for which there is less available information. Information changes consumers’
behaviour, as it brings attention to issues hitherto considered unproblematic. When information
is available, actors of the food system are increasingly encouraged to reflect on the consequences
of their actions: consumers are facilitated in their search for coherence with their responsibilities
as citizens, private firms are asked to account for the consequences of their activities well beyond
operations they control directly, public institutions are encouraged to harmonize the principle of free
circulation of commodities to nature conservation, human rights, public health, and ethical principles.
Media, scientific research, institutional bodies, and even commercial communication address these
issues in an increasingly systematic way. Concepts such as “ecological footprint”, “virtual water”,
“food miles”, “product life cycle”, “indirect land use”, and “social metabolism”—to mention just a
few—are recognized well beyond a small circle of specialists. Although some are based on limited
data and far-from-robust methodologies, these concepts affect consumers’ choices and lifestyles.
The new form of competition is not only between firms, it is also between supply chains [2]. Big
players in the food system build their brand reputation by controlling information and setting standards
over the whole product life cycle. The standards they develop add—and sometimes replace—private
governance to public governance. To build trust, they also engage in patterns of “extended governance”
that imply intense interaction with stakeholders and disclosure of information [
3
]. In contrast,
coordination of local chains—often constituted by farmers and artisanal producers—is mainly achieved
through informal relations. Farmers producing cottage products directly control the whole product
cycle, and respond personally for the quality of their products. At farmers’ markets, producers
exchange information, values, and images through face-to-face encounters [
4
]. When producers and
consumers belong to the same communities—as as in the case of Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA), Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne (AMAPS), or Solidarity Purchase
Groups (SPG)—“social control” through frequent interaction is possible [
5
,
6
]. This level of informality
can be an important competitive advantage of local food, as personal credibility allows communication
of sustainability features that cannot be measured but are nevertheless perceived as real.
2. Local Food and Sustainability Assessment: The End of a Competitive Advantage?
In the absence of reliable information and a lack of trust in globalized chains, local food purchasing
has become a strategy for some consumers to keep control of the consequences of their choices.
In many consumers’ imaginations, “local” is associated with attributes such as “organic”, “artisanal”,
“biodiversity”, “natural”, “fresh”, “seasonal”, and “nutritious” [
7
9
]. To comply with the demand
for local food, producers have reduced the physical distance between production and consumption,
established direct links with consumers, redefined the area of sourcing, set quality criteria for raw
materials, added value to local resources, and developed appropriate communication strategies.
“Local” has imposed itself as an alternative model to global food provisioning: small, diverse, and
sustainable against big, standardized, and destructive to natural resources [
10
]. The growth of
“the local”, together with increasing concern for sustainability and suspicion of industrial food, has
stimulated big players to take the issue of sustainability seriously. Large retailers and multinational
enterprises provide an increasing amount of information and broaden the range of claims made about
their products. Environmental, health, and ethical issues are a growing component of food business
communication strategies, which help them to gain a competitive advantage and pre-empt formal
regulations [
11
]. Not surprisingly, “localization” has also taken place in conventional business. It is not
uncommon to find supermarkets where the availability of local products is organized and promoted.
Some of them have revised the concept of retailing, building upon the supply of a myriad of products
with strong link to their “terroir”.
As a consequence, local and global chains tend to converge. Appropriation by the whole industry
of features originally introduced by local actors may be a threat to the niches local players have built up
over time. As both local and global chains address sustainability, and consumers can find “sustainable”
Sustainability 2016,8, 765 3 of 7
products at a lower price, the perception that local chains are more sustainable than global chains may
be challenged. Moreover, not all local chains have the same performance. Accidents or frauds—always
possible when supply chains are opaque—may undermine the reputation of local food producers as
well. If consumers are encouraged to choose between products coming from different chains, they may
not find enough evidence to support the choice of local instead of global products. This raises the need
to provide consumers with adequate information and decision-making tools.
3. Sustainability Assessment of Local and Global Chains: Methodological Issues
Sustainability assessment will be one of the keys of competition over sustainability. The way
it will be conceived and embodied into decision-makers’ choices will affect the competitiveness of
local and global chains. Science-based assessment methodologies have made substantial progress,
but uncertainties, as well as interests at stake, are high. There are no science-based methods that
are able to give an unchallenged verdict over the sustainability performance of a firm, let alone a
supply chain. Assessment methods are more suited to medium-large firm dimensions, as planning,
monitoring, and reporting are costly. Moreover, the availability of data affects the choice of parameters
to be measured, and many claims of local food are not easily measurable. To give local chains a chance
to operate on a level playing field, there is the need to re-think sustainability assessment processes and
tailor them to the characteristics of the analysed supply chains.
The European research project GLAMUR (GLAMUR research project (FP7-311778,
www.glamur.eu) has been investigating which aspects in terms of sustainability and value
distinguish a global from a local food supply chain. It has developed a multidimensional approach
to the analysis of the performance of different supply chain configurations—balancing economic
determinants with other attributes related to health, environment, society, and ethics. Dynamics in
the value chains, socio-economic and biophysical indicators, local/global categories, and their limits
have been explored. A detailed overview is provided in the paper by Brunori et al. [
12
] included in
this special issue—here we indicate seven key points on which we think scholars should focus their
attention when dealing with food supply chains sustainability assessment.
3.1. The Multidimensionality of Sustainability
Discourse over sustainability often focus on the environmental dimension. The social dimension
is more rarely taken under consideration in assessment, and exercises for assessing health and ethics
are only in their infancy. Each of these dimensions raises a number of methodological issues, as most of
the impacts are indirect (occurring after a pathway of consequences) and delayed (occurring only after
a time lag). This implies that a wide range of potential impacts should be examined simultaneously.
Moreover, dimensions belonging to the social sphere are far less easy to capture in a quantitative
way. Grivins and colleagues [
13
] make an effort in this sense, by comparatively analysing the social
performance of global and local berry supply chains (in Latvia and Serbia) and exploring the ways in
which the social dimension is embedded in the overall performance of food supply chains.
Several papers included in this special issue address food chains’ sustainability performance,
explicitly considering its multidimensional nature in different food sectors: for example, Schwarz
and colleagues [
14
] analyse economic development, resource use, labour relations, distribution of
added value, and governance for local Belgian and global Peruvian asparagus value chains. Galli and
colleagues [
15
] compare local and global bread chains across 19 attributes of sustainability performance
spanning economic, social, environment, health, and ethics. Schmitt et al. [
16
] compare cheese value
chains in Switzerland and the UK in terms of affordability, creation and distribution of added value,
information and communication, consumer behaviour, resource use, biodiversity, nutrition, and
animal welfare.
Sustainability 2016,8, 765 4 of 7
3.2. Boundary Setting and Definitions
Supply chains are mental constructs applied to formal or informal organizations and can be
defined as the "entire networks of entities, directly or indirectly interlinked and interdependent in serving
the same consumer or customer" (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/supply-chain.html).
Assessing food chains means “following the product”; that is, analysing the material stream from the
raw material to the final product. However, doing this may lead to overlooking the importance of joint
processes and products linking different chains. Several questions that explore this complex dynamic
arise, such as: how to assess local produce that is sold in a local supermarket outlet? How to evaluate
a “local” sandwich served in a global fast food chain? How to assess a local wine (local grapes and
local wine for local consumers) when its producer also makes wine with grapes sourced globally and
sells them in Asia?
As part of a multidimensional sustainability assessment of local and global wine chains, Touzard
and colleagues [
17
] make an attempt to objectivize which aspects of wine are local and which are
global by referring to the geographical distance between consumption and production, the number of
intermediaries along the value chain, the nature of incorporated resources, product identity, and the
leading actors as regards governance.
There are boundary definition problems also related to the variability of relational and spatial
configurations of supply chains in time. Given that many markets work as “spot” markets, supply
chain configurations are subject to continuous change, depending on market conditions. In this case,
boundary setting could be a difficult task. When, on the contrary, food supply chains are coordinated
through governance tools (e.g., Protected Designations of Origin schemes), assessment can be a
relatively easier task, as governance gives configurations a relative stability.
3.3. Chains vs. Systems
Assessment of supply chains may not be sufficient to properly assess sustainability. A product
can be safe and nutritious, but if not included in a proper diet, its consumption may generate health
problems. Fish is nutritious and healthy, but a generalization of fish-based diets may bring too
much pressure on fishery stocks. Sustainable fishing techniques may not be sufficient when such
pressure on stocks occurs. To address the level of sustainability with regard to issues such as these,
a system-based approach would be needed. With a systemic approach, the impact of a product may be
anticipated through design (for example, to avoid waste, the product could have a longer shelf-life
or a size tailored to customers’ needs). Firms may coordinate among themselves to reuse or recycle
leftovers. Firms’ communication may provide information about sustainable consumption, as in the
case of the nutritional labels or on indications about how to recycle. In their review, De Laurentiis
and colleagues [
18
] turn to a systemic approach and identify synergies and trade-offs between water
and energy systems and food systems, and therefore opportunities for efficient resource use and
reduced environmental impact both in food production practices and consumption choices. Employing
sustainable production methods in agriculture, changing diets, and reducing waste in all stages of the
food chain are three main identified pathways to achieving food security in a (more) sustainable way.
3.4. What Are the Implications of Different Global–Local Value Chain Configurations on Sustainability?
To be able to assess the sustainability of local food chains, and to compare them with other spatial
configurations, it is necessary to understand the implications of their specificity. In other words,
we need to understand whether the characteristics that allow us to classify the chain as “local” or
“global” are decisive in obtaining a given sustainability performance. This question refers to the limits
and potential for each actor in the food chain to improve their own sustainability performance and the
overall supply chain to which they belong.
Oostindie and colleagues [
19
] show how—for the case of local and global pork chains Italy and
the Netherlands—performance assessment turns out to be intrinsically interwoven with place-specific
Sustainability 2016,8, 765 5 of 7
and multi-facetted local–global interaction patterns and mutual interdependencies. Food chain
performance analysis is much more about in-depth analysis of place-specific dynamics, interaction,
and strategies, rather than the description of static and de-contextualized performance profiles.
3.5. How to Turn Sustainability Criteria into Metrics?
Sustainability assessment is expected to measure the distance of existing situations from desired
situations and to compare different situations in a consistent way. A number of researchers have
engaged in the endeavour of providing sustainability metrics (see [
20
] for a review). Despite these
efforts and the growth of an “indicator industry”, we are still far from having reached satisfactory
results in measuring sustainability [
21
]. Several authors have proposed reasons why outcomes are
so disappointing; for example, uncertainty over the meaning of sustainability, different priorities
given by different groups, insufficient knowledge of the realities under observation. Aware of these
limitations, there is the need to explore multiple measurement methods and indicators, with the
purpose of identifying the limits to existing methodologies and possible future research avenues.
3.6. How to Capture the Evolution of Food Chain Performance?
Different supply chain configurations may have different performance evolutions. Assessing
performance in a static way—that is, measuring indicators in a given time—would not adequately
capture the motivations, endeavours, and the capacity of the actors involved to change. Re-localization
initiatives may be a response to globalizing chains, whereas, conversely, global chain actors may
re-integrate and re-incorporate “local elements” in their business strategy as specific responses to a
renewed attention to their potential societal benefits. Similarly, local chains may incorporate global
elements to improve their resource use efficiency.
When assessing local food chains, one can detect very radical declared goals and very innovative
practices, but also inefficiencies related to a lack of resources or to inexperience. Global food chains,
on the contrary, can be very efficient in pursuing given sustainability indicators, but may be rigid in
adapting their sustainability efforts to changing conditions and societal needs. Moreover, the necessity
of optimizing their processes based on the chosen set of indicators of performance generates, as a side
effect, a systemic neglecting of those dimensions of sustainability that are more difficult to define and
quantify in an uncontested way—i.e., those referring to cultural values and ethical considerations.
3.7. How to Account for Different Interests, Values, and Perceptions of Sustainability?
Multidimensionality raises a key methodological issue: metrics for the assessment cannot be
summed up to each other because some of them are based on observations referring to different
dimensions and scales. This implies that the quantification of some of the assessments is obtained by
conflating non-equivalent descriptive domains, reducing non-reducible representations and models,
and requiring the use of different measurement units. Moreover, wide-ranging literature on food
systems provides multiple perspectives and world views. Various stakeholders define food and food
systems in non-equivalent ways. Furthermore, the relative importance of dimensions may change
according to different points of view in relation to values, interests, and knowledge: who decides
whether the analysis is addressing the “right” set of attributes of performance [
22
]? How to handle
the fact that different social actors carry legitimate but contrasting perceptions of what should be
considered as an “improvement”?
Multi-criteria analysis overcomes the simplification that is generated through cost–benefit
analysis—which only determines a reduction to costs and benefits in monetary terms subject to
available information. However, it does not address the incommensurability of values. A reflection on
new ways of developing participatory integrated assessments is needed.
Gamboa and colleagues [
23
] set out to demonstrate that the pre-analytical adoption of different
narratives about the food system leads to non-equivalent assessments of the performance of food
supply chains. In order to do so, the authors identify a set of relevant narratives on food supply chains
Sustainability 2016,8, 765 6 of 7
in Spanish and Catalan contexts and the pertinent attributes needed to describe and represent food
supply chains within the different perspectives or narratives. Hence, they carry out an integrated
assessment of three organic tomato supply chains from different perspectives, enabling the analyst to
characterize the performance of food supply chains from different perspectives and to identify the
expected trade-offs of integrated assessment.
Galli and colleagues [
15
] also address the diversity of visions around what counts as sustainable
food. By integrating qualitative and quantitative data, stakeholder consultation, and multi-criteria
analysis, the authors align the visions and the multiple meanings of sustainability. Results emphasize
the value of combining science-led evidence with socio-cultural values, multidimensional sustainability
assessment as a self diagnosis tool, and the need to identify shared assessment criteria by communities
of reference.
4. Sustainability Assessment of Local and Global Chains: Implications in Policies and Practice
Given that sustainability is a new competition terrain, sustainability assessment will be a key
aspect of food system governance. Smith and colleagues [
24
] consider how policy can address food
chains within a wider commitment to food sustainability, identifying processes of engagement—by
public policy, the market, and civil society—and points of engagement offered by existing policy
initiatives at global, EU, national, and sub-national policy levels. Scenarios as possible “food futures”
are used to illustrate the impacts on the “bigger policy picture” along the local–global continuum.
Connections are made between policy frameworks (as processes and points of engagement for food
policy) and the food “futures”.
Sustainability assessment is not only about measurement methods, it is first of all a field over
which different interests, representations, and discourses confront each other. Sustainability is a
“consensus frame” [
15
], something on which everybody is willing to engage and which, given
its relatively broad and undefined meaning, is open to different interpretations and very diverse
applications. A “consensus frame” allows very different worlds—in this case local and global food
chains—to talk to each other and to learn from each other through deliberation.
To be able to generate change, sustainability assessment should be an open, diffuse, inclusive
process—implying a continuous interchange between science, civil society, business, and public
administrations, and bringing a shared and more robust knowledge.
Acknowledgments:
The research has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework
Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement number 311778,
Global and Local food chain Assessment: a Multidimensional performance-based approach (GLAMUR) project.
Further information is available on the website http://www.glamur.eu/. The views expressed in this paper are
solely those of the authors.
Author Contributions: Both authors equally contributed to writing and revising this manuscript.
Conflicts of Interest:
The authors declare no conflict of interest. The founding sponsors had no role in the design
of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, and in the
decision to publish the results.
References
1.
Karstens, B.; Belz, F.-M. Information asymmetries, labels and trust in the german food market: A critical
analysis based on the economics of information. Int. J. Advert. 2006,25, 189–211.
2.
Seuring, S.; Gold, S. Sustainability management beyond corporate boundaries: From stakeholders to
performance. J. Clean. Prod. 2013,56, 1–6. [CrossRef]
3.
Sacconi, L. A social contract account for csr as an extended model of corporate governance (i): Rational
bargaining and justification. J. Bus. Ethics 2006,68, 259–281. [CrossRef]
4.
Kirwan, J. Alternative strategies in the UK agro-food system: Interrogating the alterity of farmers’ markets.
Sociol. Rural. 2004,44, 395–415. [CrossRef]
Sustainability 2016,8, 765 7 of 7
5.
Brunori, G.; Rossi, A.; Guidi, F. On the new social relations around and beyond food. Analysing consumers’
role and action in gruppi di acquisto solidale (solidarity purchasing groups). Sociol. Rural.
2012
,52, 1–30.
[CrossRef]
6.
Brown, C.; Miller, S. The impacts of local markets: A review of research on farmers markets and community
supported agriculture (csa). Am. J. Agric. Econ. 2008,90, 1298–1302. [CrossRef]
7.
Feldmann, C.; Hamm, U. Consumers’ perceptions and preferences for local food: A review. Food Qual.
Preference 2015,40, 152–164. [CrossRef]
8.
Onozaka, Y.; Mcfadden, D.T. Does local labeling complement or compete with other sustainable labels?
A conjoint analysis of direct and joint values for fresh produce claim. Am. J. Agric. Econ.
2011
,93, 693–706.
[CrossRef]
9. Zepeda, L.; Li, J. Who buys local food? J. Food Distrib. Res. 2006,37, 1–11.
10.
Fonte, M. Food consumption as social practice: Solidarity purchasing groups in rome, Italy. J. Rural Stud.
2013,32, 230–239. [CrossRef]
11.
Brown, H.S.; de Jong, M.; Levy, D.L. Building institutions based on information disclosure: Lessons from
gri’s sustainability reporting. J. Clean. Prod. 2009,17, 571–580. [CrossRef]
12.
Brunori, G.; Galli, F.; Barjolle, D.; van Broekhuizen, R.; Colombo, L.; Giampietro, M.; Kirwan, J.; Lang, T.;
Mathijs, E.; Maye, D. Are local food chains more sustainable than global food chains? Considerations for
assessment. Sustainability 2016,8, 449. [CrossRef]
13.
Grivins, M.; Tisenkopfs, T.; Stojanovic, Z.; Ristic, B. A comparative analysis of the social performance of
global and local berry supply chains. Sustainability 2016,8, 532. [CrossRef]
14.
Schwarz, J.; Schuster, M.; Annaert, B.; Maertens, M.; Mathijs, E. Sustainability of global and local food value
chains: An empirical comparison of peruvian and belgian asparagus. Sustainability 2016,8, 344. [CrossRef]
15.
Galli, F.; Bartolini, F.; Brunori, G. Handling diversity of visions and priorities in food chain sustainability
assessment. Sustainability 2016,8, 305. [CrossRef]
16.
Schmitt, E.; Keech, D.; Maye, D.; Barjolle, D.; Kirwan, J. Comparing the sustainability of local and global food
chains: A case study of cheese products in switzerland and the UK. Sustainability 2016,8, 419. [CrossRef]
17.
Touzard, J.-M.; Chiffoleau, Y.; Maffezzoli, C. What is local or global about wine? An attempt to objectivize a
social construction. Sustainability 2016,8, 417. [CrossRef]
18.
De Laurentiis, V.; Hunt, D.V.; Rogers, C.D. Overcoming food security challenges within an
energy/water/food nexus (ewfn) approach. Sustainability 2016,8, 95. [CrossRef]
19.
Oostindie, H.; van Broekhuizen, R.; de Roest, K.; Belletti, G.; Arfini, F.; Menozzi, D.; Hees, E. Sense and
non-sense of local–global food chain comparison, empirical evidence from dutch and italian pork case
studies. Sustainability 2016,8, 319. [CrossRef]
20.
Singh, R.K.; Murty, H.R.; Gupta, S.K.; Dikshit, A.K. An overview of sustainability assessment methodologies.
Ecol. Indic. 2009,9, 189–212. [CrossRef]
21.
Wilson, J.; Tyedmers, P.; Pelot, R. Contrasting and comparing sustainable development indicator metrics.
Ecol. Indic. 2007,7, 299–314. [CrossRef]
22. Munda, G. Social Multi-Criteria Evaluation for a Sustainable Economy; Springer: Berlin, Germany, 2008.
23.
Gamboa, G.; Kovacic, Z.; Di Masso, M.; Mingorría, S.; Gomiero, T.; Rivera-Ferré, M.; Giampietro, M.
The complexity of food systems: Defining relevant attributes and indicators for the evaluation of food supply
chains in spain. Sustainability 2016,8, 515. [CrossRef]
24.
Smith, J.; Lang, T.; Vorley, B.; Barling, D. Addressing policy challenges for more sustainable local–global
food chains: Policy frameworks and possible food “futures”. Sustainability 2016,8, 299. [CrossRef]
©
2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access
article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution
(CC-BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
... Nevertheless, some studies [4] suggested that it is not only the trust crisis in conventional food chains that stimulates the growth of AFNs but other factors have to be considered to better monitor this phenomenon. Local food purchasing has become a strategy for some consumers to try to keep control of the consequences of their choices [5,6], in the absence of reliable information that can lead to the information asymmetry issue [7]. Information asymmetry occurs when information is not fully shared among the individuals who are part of the economic process; therefore, knowledge of the information is not the same for everyone, leading to unsuccessful market decisions. ...
... According to Corsi and Mazzocchi [3], the main benefit for farmers participating in AFNs is the opportunity to internalize larger margins and to have direct access to consumers by reducing intermediation, typical of conventional markets, as well by organizing themselves in small farmers' associations [8]. Thus, whether AFNs arose in opposition to the globalized food chain, nowadays many scholars [3,5,9] agree that "this does not allow for simple dichotomies in terms of local versus global or conventional versus alternative" [9], as local and global food systems coexist, and consumers usually buy both in local and in global food chains [7]. ...
... The issues and motivations embodied by AFN consumers have had an impact on global food chains, as large retailers and multinational enterprises are now providing an increasing amount of information and broadened the range of claims about their products [5]. Hinrichs [10] comments that in USA the idea of local and place-based food has a large diffusion and includes both actors like farmers, coming from "the weekly farmers' market downtown" and large food retailers, as Wal-Mart, confirming the coexistence of sometimes contradictory perspectives around this issue. ...
Article
Full-text available
Over the last years, the trust of consumers in the quality and sustainability of the food system has weakened due to the disconnection between producers and consumers. Alternative Food Networks (AFNs) and Short Food Supply Chains (SFSCs), born out of the perceived loss of trust in the globalized food system, are trying to shorten the gap between farmers and consumers. Nowadays, many scholars agree that local and global food systems coexist, and consumers usually buy both in local and in global food chains. Our study aims to understand the factors that affect the development of AFNs with a specific focus on the interactions with small-and large-scale food retailing in the Lombardy region in the north of Italy. We employ an Ordinary Least Square (OLS) model, on a municipal scale, in which the dependent variable measures the number of participatory activities carried out by farmers and consumers in AFNs. The main results highlight that conventional large retailers and alternative food networks are linked, and that the coexistence of the two market channels may lead to the development for both of them. Contrarily, where small stores exist, they may compete with an alternative food channel, as they offer similar products and services.
... Nesse sentido, o termo "local" sofreu uma apropriação com a finalidade de tornar o consumo de certos itens mais apelativos, em uma prática que alguns autores chamam de "local washing" (Brunori;Galli, 2016;Fitzgerald, 2016). ...
... Nesse sentido, o termo "local" sofreu uma apropriação com a finalidade de tornar o consumo de certos itens mais apelativos, em uma prática que alguns autores chamam de "local washing" (Brunori;Galli, 2016;Fitzgerald, 2016). ...
Article
Full-text available
RESUMO Este artigo tem por objetivo explorar conceitualmente o movimento de ativismo alimentar chamado “locavorismo”, contextualizando seu surgimento e algumas de suas manifestações. Ao ser colocado em prática, o locavorismo pode ter efeitos diversos e até mesmo antagônicos. Para que fossem analisadas essas contradições, foram entrevistadas duas organizações de agricultores na cidade de São Paulo inseridas em circuitos de consumo local para que se fizessem compreender na prática os potenciais efeitos sociais e ambientais deste tipo de compra.
... The abuse of pesticides has jeopardized food safety and industrial ultra-processing has caused a worrying growth of obesity and associated diseases (heart disease, hypertension and diabetes) [2]. Thus, features such as designation of origin, ecological footprint, toxicity, and animal welfare are weighed in the individual selection of the food to be consumed, as well as in the agenda of public policies, as now clearly stated in the European "Farm to Fork Strategy" [3][4][5]. These features underline the importance of transitioning towards sustainable food systems [6,7], which, in turn, opens new opportunities for peasants and rural social movements. ...
... This theoretical approach postulates that, in a competitive environment, the individual-calculating and rational-is able to process all the information available and to reach the most efficient outcome. According to some authors [3,38,39], such a perspective regards the market as an independent entity emancipated from all social relationships, and consumption is deemed to be the highest expression of human rationality. Yet, it has been said that "the monological reasoning that reduces all social life to a utilitarian and economic motivation, neglecting the complexity of other social, cultural, moral, aesthetic and environmental factors that are involved in social change, is increasingly challenged" ( [40] p. 15). ...
Article
Full-text available
One of the main dilemmas faced by small-scale farmers' movements advocating for agroecology in Latin America lies in the trade-offs between the economic opportunities arising from the organic food market expansion, and the political principles at the core of their action. To provide insights on this issue, a survey was performed in Brazil and Chile. Between March 2016 and December 2018, data were collected through direct and participant observation, documentary analysis, and interviews conducted to peasant organizations' leaders, technicians and policymakers. In Brazil, the research focused on the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (The Landless Movement); while in Chile, due to the absence of such a national social movement, it considered a wider set of actors, including the Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo Agropecuario (National Institute for Agricultural Development). The results show how social movements are navigating between the mainstreaming pressures of the conventional markets, dominated by the leading agri-food corporations, and the political efforts they have been doing to build civic food markets as alternatives to conventionalization patterns. Finally, we argue that social scientists should better explain the tensions and compromises the social movements go through in order to coordinate different and complementary marketing strategies.
... However, in this sector, where production is globalized (Ala-Harja, 2016), this will result in a major distance between producer and consumers. For these reasons, recently, consumers are responding by orienting their buying habits towards local producers, since local production is generally associated with some attributes such as freshness, seasonality and, finally, with a perceived higher degree of control (Brunori, 2016), despite the fact that small and local firms mostly lack in CSR engagement due to minor pressure from stakeholders (particularly of consumers, for the aforementioned "pretense of knowledge"), to a lack of resources and to the inconclusive cost-benefit relation between CSR engagement and economic performances. ...
Article
The purpose of this paper is to address the relationship between intellectual capital and corporate environmentalism, assuming that intellectual capital may be an important precondition to foster environmental commitment and that, on the other side, corporate environmentalism may positively determine the level of intellectual capital in a reciprocal and virtuous circle. To address this topic, we conducted two OLS regression analysis on a worldwide sample of 235 firms operating in the food industry, over an eight years’ time horizon (2010-2017), with 1,686 firm-year observations gathered from Asset-4ESG and Worldscope. Results confirm our hypotheses thus providing important theoretical and managerial implications.
... Many studies have focused on assessing the sustainability of global and local food supply (Brunori and Galli, 2016), and a particular emphasis has been placed on short food supply chains (SFSC) (Praly et al., 2014). The popular concept of "food miles", which originated in the UK and provides a measure of how far food travels between the production stage and the final consumer (Weber and Matthews, 2008), often demonstrates that local sales can be a strategy to decrease the environmental impacts of supply chains. ...
Article
There is growing interest in re-localization and re-connection of agriculture and food consumption, and Short Food Supply Chains (SFSCs) are becoming more and more popular. However, there are few studies on their environmental performance. Existing studies focus primarily on comparing imports and domestic consumption, often according to a single environmental criterion (i.e., energy or carbon footprint), without considering the great diversity of subnational commercialization patterns. This paper aims at assessing the environmental sustainability of different archetypes of food supply chains, from global ones to short ones, to identify hotspots and discuss the conditions under which a given supply chain performs better than another one. The overall methodology is based on a full Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) with a focus on a fresh and unprocessed product: apples purchased in an urban area. First, a consistent definition and classification of supply chains, is provided based on geographical and organizational features. An innovative approach is then developed to compute logistics data representative of these supply chains, using Geographic Information System tools. Finally, a comparison of the environmental performances of archetypes of apple supply chains is provided. The results show the relatively good environmental performance of the national long food supply chain which is used as the reference scenario in this study. Moreover, there are great differences in the environmental performance of SFSCs. Direct off-farm sales have the same level of performance as the reference. On the other hand, direct on-farm sales can be very impactful. Results also highlight the impacts of the final consumer trip which are significant and highly variable, depending on consumer-retailer distance, weight of apples purchased, and transport means used. This variability leads to reconsidering the questions frequently asked in LCAs of systems with extreme sensitivity to highly variable parameters. The concern is no longer whether one scenario is better than another, but to determine the values of those parameters that allow for better performance. Focusing on these parameters has direct implications in terms of decision-making by providing straightforward results with operational recommendations that are understandable to the general public, and not only LCA indicators.
Article
Tourists visit wine and culinary destinations for unique, geographically indicated experiences that are place specific. The objective of this research is to understand how the transformational potential of experiential wine and culinary tourism best promotes sustainability in the context of international educational travel. Our case study in the iconic Chianti Region of Italy applies a ‘Hopeful Tourism Enquiry’ perspective and focuses on participatory, co-transformative learning, and mindful sustainability. A mixed qualitative research strategy was implemented that integrates the results of in-depth interviews with industry experts, excerpts from expository travel journals simultaneously captured during the experience, and focus group dialogues with participating students at the end of the field course. This case study revealed three overlapping thematic results that illustrate the influence of experiential educational tourism on the sensory and cultural experience of sustainable food and wine to produce co-transformative learning. The co-creation of memorable experiences establishes a unique sensual representation of provenance through the interaction with the region through narrative so that not only is the food and wine being consumed, but also the consumption of place through the storyscape of a positive and memorable experience.
Article
Aiming for sustainable development of food value chains several assessment methods are developed, however it seems challenging to go from assessment to actual change. A solution proposed is increased stakeholder involvement also in the assessment phase. The perspective on sustainability varies depending on several variables, among which the geographical context where the producers are located. The perspective of the latter is of paramount importance as these are the actors on who, ultimately, possible changes towards sustainability depend. In this article, we applied a qualitative approach to investigate the farmers’ perspective on sustainability, in the horticultural production in Arctic Norway. We found that many of the premises for sustainable food production are present. The main challenges are lack of long-term planning, dependency of rented land as well as fluctuating yield and income. Producer’s network is essential for development as well as introduction of technical improvements. The study shows the importance of contextualisation of sustainability, as well as pointing at concerns about trade-offs between sustainability dimensions and themes in the proposed model. The research contributes to method development by demonstrating how a qualitative approach is a fruitful method to unravel the complexities of sustainability in food production.
Thesis
Full-text available
The Thesis analyses the concept of sustainability and the debate concerning the role of business in society. Specifically, the thesis investigates how business can contribute to sustainable development and how this aspect may be strategic for a company. With regard to the agri-food sector, the thesis proposes a systematization of the theoretical framework concerning the multi-functionality of agriculture and its connection with the responsibility of business. The work analyses different kinds of assessment and reporting methods and the possible compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals established by United Nations. Due to the increasing attention given to the B Corp movement, the thesis also aims to evaluate if Benefit Corporations and B Corp certified companies might provide an answer to the role that people are asking businesses to play. The analysis has been conducted in relation to a specific case study: Aboca SpA, an agricultural Italian firm operating in the health sector. The company has been working in the production of dietary supplements and medical devices made of natural substances for over 40 years. Aboca controls its own production chain from organic cultivations to finished product. Aboca became a Benefit Corporation in 2018 and gained the B Corp certification in 2019. The company is analysed considering its governance and the attitude in producing common benefit (e.g. biodiversity, cultural activities, training in health, etc.). The empirical strategy consists of company's description and analysis, interviews and SWOT analysis. The case study helps to explain both strengths and weaknesses of the Benefit Impact Assessment reporting tool and B Corp certification process, as well as its effect on the company.
Article
Full-text available
The goal of this paper is twofold: to comparatively analyze the social performance of global and local berry supply chains and to explore the ways in which the social dimension is embedded in the overall performance of food supply chains. To achieve this goal, the social performance of five global and local food supply chains in two countries are analyzed: wild blueberry supply chains in Latvia and cultivated raspberry supply chains in Serbia. The study addresses two research questions: (1) What is the social performance of the local and global supply chains? (2) How can references to context help improve understanding of the social dimension and social performance of food supply chains? To answer these questions, two interlinked thematic sets of indicators (attributes) are used—one describing labor relations and the other describing power relations. These lists are then contextualized by examining the micro-stories of the actors involved in these supply chains. An analysis of the chosen attributes reveals that global chains perform better than local chains. However, a context-sensitive analysis from the perspective of embedded markets and communities suggests that the social performance of food chains is highly context-dependent, relational, and affected by actors’ abilities to negotiate values, norms, and the rules embedded within these chains, both global and local. The results illustrate that the empowerment of the chains’ weakest actors can lead to a redefining of the meanings that performance assessments rely on.
Article
Full-text available
The wide-ranging literature on food systems provides multiple perspectives and world views. Various stakeholders define food and food systems in non-equivalent ways. The perception of the performance of food systems is determined by these specific perspectives, and a wide variety of policies responding to different aims are proposed and implemented accordingly. This paper sets out to demonstrate that the pre-analytical adoption of different narratives about the food system leads to non-equivalent assessments of the performance of food supply chains. In order to do so, we (i) identify a set of relevant narratives on food supply chains in Spanish and Catalan contexts; (ii) identify the pertinent attributes needed to describe and represent food supply chains within the different perspectives or narratives; and (iii) carry out an integrated assessment of three organic tomato supply chains from the different perspectives. In doing so, the paper proposes an analysis of narratives to enable the analyst to characterize the performance of food supply chains from different perspectives and to identify the expected trade-offs of integrated assessment, associating them with the legitimate-but-contrasting views found among the social actors involved.
Article
Full-text available
This paper summarizes the main findings of the GLAMUR project which starts with an apparently simple question: is “local” more sustainable than “global”? Sustainability assessment is framed within a post-normal science perspective, advocating the integration of public deliberation and scientific research. The assessment spans 39 local, intermediate and global supply chain case studies across different commodities and countries. Assessment criteria cover environmental, economic, social, health and ethical sustainability dimensions. A closer view of the food system demonstrates a highly dynamic local–global continuum where actors, while adapting to a changing environment, establish multiple relations and animate several chain configurations. The evidence suggests caution when comparing “local” and “global” chains, especially when using the outcomes of the comparison in decision-making. Supply chains are analytical constructs that necessarily—and arbitrarily—are confined by system boundaries, isolating a set of elements from an interconnected whole. Even consolidated approaches, such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), assess only a part of sustainability attributes, and the interpretation may be controversial. Many sustainability attributes are not yet measurable and “hard” methodologies need to be complemented by “soft” methodologies which are at least able to identify critical issues and trade-offs. Aware of these limitations, our research shows that comparing local and global chains, with the necessary caution, can help overcome a priori positions that so far have characterized the debate between “localists” and “globalists”. At firm level, comparison between “local” and “global” chains could be useful to identify best practices, benchmarks, critical points, and errors to avoid. As sustainability is not a status to achieve, but a never-ending process, comparison and deliberation can be the basis of a “reflexive governance” of food chains.
Article
Full-text available
Local food has recently gained popularity under the assumption that it is more sustainable than food from distant locations. However, evidence is still lacking to fully support this assumption. The goal of this study is to compare local and global food chains in five dimensions of sustainability (environmental, economic, social, ethical and health), covering all stages of the chain. In particular, four cheese supply chains are compared in detail: a local (L'Etivaz) and global (Le Gruyère) case in Switzerland and a local (Single Gloucester) and global (Cheddar) case in the UK. A multi-dimensional perspective is adopted to compare their sustainability performance. Eight attributes of performance (affordability, creation and distribution of added value, information and communication, consumer behaviour, resource use, biodiversity, nutrition and animal welfare) are used to frame the comparative analysis. The results suggest that local cheese performs better in the field of added value creation and distribution, animal welfare and biodiversity. Global chains, by contrast, perform better in terms of affordability and efficiency and some environmental indicators. This analysis needed to be expressed in qualitative terms rather than quantified indicators and it has been especially useful to identify the critical issues and trade-offs that hinder sustainability at different scales. Cheese supply chains in Switzerland and the UK also often present hybrid arrangements in term of local and global scales. Comparison is therefore most meaningful when presented on a local (farmhouse)/global (creamery) continuum.
Article
Full-text available
What is a "local" food chain as opposed to a "global" chain? Are local food chains more sustainable than global chains? In the context of market globalization and the proliferation of local alternatives, these questions have taken on a new aspect, which has been addressed by the GLAMUR (Global and Local food chain Assessment: a Multidimensional performance-based approach) project. Using an analysis of three archetypal wine chains in the south of France, and considering food chains as embedded social constructions, we will first attempt to objectivize which aspects of wine are local, and which are global, using a multidimensional analytical approach. As local vs. global characteristics seem to be strategic assets or constraints, and not structural components, we will then outline an evaluative approach to wine chain sustainability by valuing qualitative indicators to be scored and benchmarked by experts. We will discuss our findings from a scientific and operational perspective by highlighting how a local vs. global approach produces new sustainability issues and practical solutions. Nevertheless, as concrete chains often mix global and local characteristics, further research must be done in order to assess how this combination may be sustainable for different types of actors, depending on their values, capacities, networks and constraints.
Article
Full-text available
The sustainability of food value chains is an increasing concern for consumers, food companies and policy-makers. Global food chains are often perceived to be less sustainable than local food chains. Yet, thorough food chain analyses and comparisons of different food chains across sustainability dimensions are rare. In this article we analyze the local Belgian and global Peruvian asparagus value chains and explore their sustainability performance. A range of indicators linked to environmental, economic and social impacts is calculated to analyze the contribution of the supply chains to economic development, resource use, labor relations, distribution of added value and governance issues. Our findings suggest that none of the two supply chains performs invariably better and that there are trade-offs among and between sustainability dimensions. Whereas the global chain uses water and other inputs more intensively and generates more employment per unit of land and higher yields, the local chain generates more revenue per unit of land.
Article
Full-text available
Priority setting between local versus global food chains continues to be subject of debate among food, rural and agricultural scholars with an interest in how to support more sustainable food provision and consumption patterns. Recently the FP7 European GLAMUR project targeted to assess and compare the performances of local versus global food chains in a systematic way covering multiple performance dimensions. Especially drawing on empirical research on the performances of three Italian and three Dutch pork chains, it will be argued that meaningful performance comparison needs to acknowledge the complex, multi-facetted and time and place specific interaction patterns between (more) global and (more) local pork chains. Therefore, as regards these pork chains, local–global performance comparison is thought to have hardly significance in isolation from complementary “horizontal” (place-based) and “circular” (waste or by-product valorization oriented) assessments. As will be concluded, this methodological complexity of food chain performance comparison doesn’t allow for simple statements regarding the pros and cons of (more) global versus (more) local pork chains. Hence, it is recommended to avoid such less fruitful local–global dichotomy and to concentrate on more policy relevant questions as: how to facilitate fundamentally different resource-use-efficiency strategies and how to optimize the place-specific interaction between more “local” versus more “global” food systems?
Article
Full-text available
The article considers how policy can address the local-global within a wider commitment to food sustainability and draws on research conducted for the EU-funded GLAMUR project (Global and local food assessment: a multidimensional performance-based approach). Case study data identifies four key policy challenges for policymakers. Addressing these challenges in order to make links between current (and future) more sustainable food policy involves three phases. The first identifies processes of engagement in three spheres (public policy, the market and civil society); the second identifies points of engagement offered by existing policy initiatives at global, EU, national and sub-national policy levels; and the third builds scenarios as possible "food futures", used to illustrate how the project's findings could impact on the "bigger policy picture" along the local-global continuum. Connections are made between the policy frameworks, as processes and points of engagement for food policy, and the food "futures". It is suggested that the findings can help support policymakers as they consider the effects and value of using multi-criteria interventions.
Article
This article reviews the scientific literature on local food from the consumer's perspective and analyses findings through the application of the Alphabet Theory-a newly developed theoretical framework for consumer behavior towards alternative food choices. As consumers' interest in local food has steadily increased in the past fifteen years, so has the number of research studies on consumers' attitudes and purchase behavior with regard to local food. A literature search was carried out on three online catalogues using the search terms taken into account. In all, the literature search returned 550 scientific articles. This paper provides an overview of 73 relevant publications, summarizes the main results, and identifies research gaps in the context of the Alphabet Theory. One major result was that, unlike organic food, local food is not perceived as expensive. Nevertheless, consumers are willing to pay a premium for local food. In mostly quantitative studies, consumer characteristics , attitudes, and purchase behaviors with regard to local food were assessed. Research gaps were identified in various areas: cross-national (cultural) comparisons, influence of different types of products (fresh vs. non-perishable, processed vs. non-processed, or plant vs. animal products), origin of foodstuffs used to produce local food as well as the influence of personal and social norms on the formation of attitudes towards local food. This contribution appears to be the first review of scientific articles from the field of local food consumption to present an overview on international research and to identify research gaps.