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Marketing sustainable agriculture: an analysis of the potential role of new food supply chains in sustainable rural development


This project was undertaken as response to the growing emergence of the issues of food quality and sustainable rural development as central concerns in discourses over the future of food and farming in Europe. In this project the start and evolution of fourteen food supply chain initiatives in seven European countries were reconstructed. These fourteen initiatives represent an impressive diversity. The initiatives analysed, however, also show that distinctiveness is created and realised through three dimensions: 1) Governance (the structural as well as process-related aspects of creating and maintaining a food network), 2) Embedding (the extent to which a food network uses local resources and the extent to which societal norms and values are incorporated in the food product and the chain) and 3) Marketing (the market oriented business management of an enterprise or alliance). Constructing a new food network always involves making conscious and strategic choices over governance, embedding and marketing and co-ordinating these three dimensions. These three dimensions are interrelated and interconnected. When scaling up a food supply chain these have to be continuously coordinated and balanced. The fourteen cases show how each initiative has created and pursued its own path. Although each path is unique there are clearly observable similarities and differences between them. Detailed comparison of these similarities and differences has led us to distinguish three different trajectories: 1. Chain innovation: the construction of a new food supply chain, generally with the aim of improving the position of farmers in the food supply chain or network. This trajectory initially focuses on the design, development and implementation of new forms of food supply chain governance, such as new rules, codes of practice, division of roles and institutional arrangements. 2. Chain differentiation: the production and marketing of new, more distinctive products within an existing chain. The aim of this trajectory is to improve the commercial performance of an existing food supply chain or network by developing one, or a range of, distinctive product(s) that differ significantly from those presently available. Chain differentiation is most often initiated by chain actors such as processors or retailers. 3. Territorial embedding: the (re) construction of a food supply chain as vehicle for regional development. This trajectory is primarily driven by public or societal concerns over sustainable regional development and is usually initiated by public-private partnerships as a broader strategy of strengthening synergies between food production, consumption and regional economic development. Policy is about making choices: who and what to support, and how to provide this support in the most effective way. We can identify a number of different types of support: financial, marketing, information and public relations; advocacy and public legitimisation of the initiative, brokering; training and consulting; and technical and legal support for innovative and experimental approaches. The question of how to provide effective support in the most efficient way comes back to issues of identifying the type of support needed, and providing it in the right amount and at the right time. The GEM-framework allows for a better understanding of development opportunities, constraints and risks faced by different types of alternative FSCs at different stages in their development. This framework provides a tool that could prove of use in helping improve the targeting of support. The conceptual framework (the GEM framework) allows a better understanding of how sustainable chains are constructed. It posits that a sustainability trajectory always involves a combination of Governing, Embedding and Marketing (GEM). Different types of trajectories can be formulated that reflect different configurations of these three aspects. The analytical framework also intends to demonstrate how each type of sustainability trajectory has a specific performance in terms of sustainability, in terms of its impact on rural development as well as commercial performance, marketing and communication, etc. Particular types of trajectory require specific kinds of public or private support to enhance their sustainability performance and enable them to meet their full potential. The framework can also be used as reflexive tool for practitioners and their supporters, one that can help them to position themselves, develop a clear strategy, find the right allies, develop their skills and build the capacities that they need. The framework cannot only help practitioners to find the right road, but also to travel along it well equipped.