If the parties in the food chain, from farmers to consumers, increase their cooperation, then the entire chain will benefit from improved quality, safety and sustainability. Agreements and trust improve chain stability, and that benefits all parties, including consumers with their growing number of wishes regarding the food assortment, the environment and animal welfare. These were key points raised by Jacques Trienekens in his inaugural address as Professor (personal chair) of Chain and Network Management at Wageningen University on 2 July.
Since the 1990s, the number of items sold in supermarkets has risen sharply, from about five thousand products then to more than twenty thousand now. Many fruits and vegetables from Dutch growers, which were previously available seasonally, are now available year-round. In addition, the assortment has expanded with products from all over the world, so that the origin of fresh products has shifted from regional, to national to global. In recent decades, the frequency with which the shelves in the supermarkets are restocked has increased from once or twice per week to multiple times per day. “As a result the food chain is faced with a large and complex organisational challenge”, stated Professor Trienekens in his inaugural address Organisational innovation in agriculture and food chains: towards sustainable business networks.
The complexity is increased by the growing demands of society – animal welfare, sustainable production, fair trade and no child labour – which sometimes conflict with themes such as global free trade and transport, with its corresponding growth in CO2 emissions.
To achieve these seemingly opposed objectives, parties within the chain must consult with each other more frequently and make agreements. “As a result, they also promote their innovation and business performance”, explained the Wageningen professor. “In addition, the parties in the chain should strengthen their relationships with societal and economic groups such as banks and NGOs, including consumer, animal and environmental protection organisations. This would lead to additional societal engagement, so that the parties would be granted 'permission to produce'”, he added. “Ultimately, all parties in the chain benefit from improved quality, sustainability and safety.”