Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
RN12_03a: Workshop: Sustainable Food Practices and Socio-Technical Innovation
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Magnani Natalia, University of Trento
Location: BS.3.21
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Third Floor, North Atrium Oxford Road

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"Bridging Spaces" Linking Modes of Food Provisioning with Household Food Practices Methodologically

Suse Brettin, Meike Brückner

Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Germany

Everyday food provisioning is increasingly embedded in a complex landscape of alternative modes of distribution of produce. The variety is ranging on the one hand from digital supported to purely analog routes as well as from consumer- to business-driven routes. These new modes create not only digital market-places and platforms, they also have the potential to cultivate socio-technical networks of sharing and caring and thus, facilitate alternative food economies in which consumers are allowed to choose and practice food differently. Though it has yet to be analyzed in which way these alternative modes of food provisioning actually do foster other ways of food consumption in the domestic sphere. Thus it is necessary to open the black box of the household in order to facilitate knowledge about consumer's food related practices in and around the kitchen as well as in order to analyze how those practices are linked to certain ways of food provisioning.

Based on experiences from different research projects we, first, want to discuss how food practices can be investigated methodologically. Secondly we will focus on methods that are feasible to analyzing the link between food provisioning and food consumption, while giving respect to the divers and complex landscape of different modes of distribution of produce. We will present and discuss methodological conclusions as well as preliminary research results from a case study in Berlin where quantitative data regarding different types of food provisioning has been gathered and complemented with qualitative interviews conducted in households.

Food Provision Transitions: An Audit of the Digital Landscape in Ireland

Claire O'Neill, Shadi Hashem, Mary McCarthy

University College Cork, Ireland

The Irish food provisioning system can be characterised as one dominated by a small number of large operators, with the top 5 retailers accounting for about 90% of grocery sales. However, in recent years a transformation of this system is evident, with the emergence of a number of alternative routes to market that support smaller scale operators. Included in this transformation is the rise of the digital route, where an annualised sales growth rate of 25% is reported. Despite this, little attention has yet been given to profiling businesses offering such services. The objective of this research is to audit/profile current operators and characterise them based on how they present themselves and the services they provide. Within this context, business models are considered to identify the extent to which this development represents a pipeline for a business or a platform to connect suppliers and buyers. A desk analysis was carried out on 70 food companies offering a digital route to market. These food provisioning systems were identified and analysed as either traditional food pipelines, i.e. e-commerce sites, or food platforms, i.e. sites connecting sellers and buyers. Results indicate that the traditional pipeline structure remains the dominant form of digital food-provisioning. Only 2 providers are classified as a platform structure. In terms of how these companies present themselves to prospective stakeholders, multiple sustainability-related claims have been identified as core goals across all digital food provisioning sites surveyed. These claims include commitment to health and wellbeing, protection of cultural heritage, provision and commitment to local food, and expressions of commitment to environmental protection.

Mind the Gap: Between the Chain and the Platform

Emanuela Bozzini, Francesca Forno, Natalia Magnani, Filippo Oncini

University of Trento, Italy

Over the past few years, the world economy has assisted to the rise and success of the so-called platform business model. This innovation in the digital framework partially reconfigured the way users and producers engage by providing an intermediary service that facilitate interactions and economic transactions. The rise of platform capitalism has made inroad also in the food-provisioning sector, although many traditional e-commerce models still coexist alongside the new platform options.

Despite food economies and food sharing initiatives have gone digital since several years, still lacking is a systematic depiction and categorisation of the existing web organisations. Making use of a unique dataset mapping all the Italian online food provisioning systems (N = 220), this study aims to shed light on the current transformations of the food provisioning sector, putting special emphasis i) on the relation between material and digital food supply, and ii) on the most important differences between food pipelines and food platforms. Three main indications emerge from the analysis of the data: first, there is a substantial continuity between the structure of the Italian brick-and-mortar stores and alternative food networks, and the emergence of traditional digital pipelines. Second, food platforms represents only a minority (5%) of the actual online food provisioning services. Third, platforms are still very heterogeneously organised, and differently from most economically successful examples in other sectors (e.g. Uber, Airbnb or Amazon Marketplace) still have not reached capillarity and the capacity to develop network effects.

We conclude by speculating on the factors hindering the growth of the platform food model, and by outlining the possibilities and obstacles that this model may pose to the sustainability challenge.

Box Schemes: Convenience, health and sustainability in a box?

Nina Heidenstrøm, Marie Hebrok

Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

Box schemes, providing pre-portioned meals, conveniently ordered online and delivered at your doorstep with easy to prepare recipes, are gaining market shares in Europe. A great proportion of these services provide organic, local and seasonal food, vegetarian meals, and promise reductions in household food waste. This raises the question if box-scheme services may represent a potential vehicle for sustainable food consumption. Can box-schemes enable sustainable food practices?

Contrary to the promises made by the service providers, results from 16 in-depth interviews with Norwegian households revealed that the subscribers believed they wasted more food than usual. Furthermore, participants found that the box schemes did not offer the type and amount of food suitable for their families, and that they were inflexible regarding ad hoc changes in contents and delivery. However, some box-scheme services are already making changes to their product in order to enable consumers to personalise their subscriptions. By logging into the digital platforms of box scheme providers, users can adjust portions and delivery times, as well as pick and choose the dishes that tempt the most each week.

This paper explores the potential of box schemes, as a digital food platform, in enabling sustainable food practices. Our analysis is based on a mapping of box-schemes in Norway, Italy, Germany, Ireland and Sweden, as well as in-home interviews with box-scheme users in Norway. The mapping provides a richer understanding of the characteristics and prevalence of these services in Europe, and sheds light on the variety of box-scheme concepts and whether these might contribute to a transition towards sustainable food consumption.

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