Summer school

Food Value Chain Research: Understanding Inter-Organizational Relationships - 1.5 ECTS

The Globalisation of food chains and evolving consumer and stakeholder requirements concerning the safety and quality of food and sustainability of its production processes is forcing farmers and businesses to look for ways to link up with other companies in the chain as well as with actors such as governments, NGOs and consumer organisations. To understand inter-organizational relationships across these food chains, going beyond the dyad, is a new multi-disciplinary area of research encompassing organizational, sustainability and quality perspectives. This autumn school will give students insights in different theories in this area and learn them how to apply these, in an integrated way, to their own research project.

Organised by Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS)

Mon 8 April 2019 until Fri 12 April 2019

Venue Leeuwenborch, building number 201
Hollandseweg 1
6706 KN Wageningen


    Food value chains
    Understanding inter-organizational relationships in food value chains starts with acknowledging that these chains are made up of business organisations that seek to bring food products from producers to final consumers. Studying and explaining relations in food value chains requires an economic-organisational perspective. The key organisations are the firms producing and handling the food products, but many other organisations influence the behaviour of these firms and thus the performance of the chain. This course aims to make PhD students understand how inter-organisational relationships in food value chains affect value added, food quality and safety, sustainability, fairness and inclusiveness of these value chains.

    Food quality and sustainability

    Food products, compared to non-food products, have a number of characteristics that makes managing food value chains challenging. First, the perishability of food. This has implications for quality control in transport, storage, and packaging. Second, food has a direct link with human health. This has implications for food safety guarantees provided or requested by the companies involved, but also for the nutritional composition of the product. Third, food production and distribution has a relatively large impact on sustainability (i.e., water use, energy use, waste, pesticide use), stressing the need for  circular economies. This has implications for the boundary conditions for food production and distribution, and thereby for the societal debate on the strictness for these conditions.

    Coordination and collaboration

    The increasing demands of consumers and other stakeholders for food quality and sustainability leads to more complexity, more uncertainty and more interdependence in food value chains. Dealing with complexity, uncertainty and interdependencies requires coordination among the companies in the chain. This coordination can be obtained by different formal and informal coordination mechanisms. Inter-organisational relationships reflect the coordination mechanisms used.

    Within food value chains we can make a distinction between horizontal and vertical collaboration. The latter implies that companies having a seller-buyer relationship agree upon making joint decisions as to delivery conditions, packaging, quality control, information exchange, payment schemes and innovation. Horizontal collaboration is most common among agricultural producers, within cooperatives and other types of producer organizations (POs). By collaborating in cooperatives and POs, farmers can increase their bargaining power, benefit from economies of scale, share information, share risks and reduce transaction costs.

    Organizational and institutional environment

    While the course focusses on the food value chain and the actors and activities in the chain, it will also pay attention to the organizational and institutional environment surrounding the chain. The organizational environment consists of public and private organizations that directly interact with the companies in the chain, such as financial service providers and consultants. But also NGOs may provide managerial or technical support to the value chain actors.

    The institutional environment consists of formal and informal institutions that enable, direct and constrain the decisions of value chain actors. Examples are formal regulations, quality standards, state support programs, but also societal norms and values about how food should (not) be produced or what type of food should (not) be consumed. While the state in general is part of the institutional environment, as it sets rules and regulations, specific state agencies may be part of the organizational environment for instance when they provide technical assistance or when state trading companies are involved.

    Target group

    The target group for this course are PhD candidates with an interest in inter-company relationships in value chains. Beyond participants in business economics and management this course on food value chain analysis is also of interest for other students in the social sciences. Thus, also participants from development economics, agricultural economics, resource economics, environmental policy, sociology and other social sciences can learn from this course. Finally, also PhD candidates from the technical sciences, having some basic understanding of management or economics, can participate and thereby enhance their knowledge of how social, environmental and economic aspects of food production and distribution is strongly influenced by interrelated strategies of companies.

    Learning Goals

    Participants will gain insights in theories and methods to be used in research on inter-organisational relationships in food value chains. At the end of the course, the participant is able to:

    • Understand main theoretical insights in the organisation of food value chains, particularly related to food quality management and sustainability;
    • Understand main theoretical insights explaining horizontal and vertical collaboration in food value chains;
    • Understand the methods / methodological challenges in research on food chains;
    • Apply the theoretical and methodological insights in their own research projects;
    • Analyse real life cases of food value chain organisation.

    Theories to be discussed include Transaction Cost Economics, Principal Agent / Contract Theory, Social Network Theory, Collective Action Theory, Food Quality Management Theory, and new insights in Circular Economy thinking.

    Application to your own research project

    The PhD projects of the participants will be used as cases for the research design sessions. Students will apply the concepts they learn in the lectures to their own research projects. This will lead to in-depth knowledge of these concepts and insight in possibilities and limitations of applying theories and methods in own research.

    Assumed prior knowledge

    Basic knowledge of economics and business sciences


      The sessions are from 9.00-17.00 hrs (Excursion times will be announced later)

      Outline of the Course in hours

      Lectures: 4hrs per day = 16 hrs

      Excursion: 4 hrs

      Case work + discussion: 3 hrs per day = 15 hrs

      Literature (evenings): 1 hrs per day, 4 days = 4 hrs

      Final case discussion (Friday afternoon): 1 hrs

      Total= 40 hours


      On Monday evening a joint dinner will be organised!
      On Friday afternoon the course will be closed with drinks!

      Teaching methods

      The course consists of lectures, tutorials, case work and discussion and an excursion. In general, both mornings and afternoons until Thursday include a lecture, case study and discussion. Students are expected to read the course documents before the lectures.

      Preliminary course schedule

      Day Subject Lecturer
      Monday 9.00-17.00 Introduction - Vertical relationships in food value chains Jacques Trienekens
      Tuesday 9.00-17.00 Horizontal relationships in food value chains Jos Bijman
      Wednesday 9.00-17.00 Food value chain quality management Jos Bijman/Jacques Trienekens
      Thursday 9.00-17.00 Food value chain sustainability management Stefano Pascucci
      Friday 9.00-17.00 Integration - Excursion Jos Bijman, Jacques Trienekens, Stefano Pascucci


      Participants should send a short summary of their PhD research (ongoing or planned) to the course coordinators Jos Bijman and Jacques Trienekens ( two weeks before start of the course!

      Course fee

      WASS, PE&RC and WIMEK/SENSE PhDs with TSP 175 euro
      a) all other PhD candidates, b) Postdocs and staff of the above mentioned Graduate Schools 350 euro
      All others 500 euro

      NB1: for some courses, PhD candidates from other WUR graduate schools with a TSP are also entitled to a reduced fee. Please consult your Education/PhD Programme Coordinator for more information

      Cancellation conditions:

      The participants can cancel their registration free of charge 1 month before the course starts. A cancellation fee of 100% applies if a participant cancels his/her registration less than 1 month prior to the start of the course.

      The organisers have the right to cancel the course no later than one month before the planned course start date in the case that the number of registrations does not reach the minimum.

      The participants will be notified of any changes at their e-mail addresses.