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«Published: 2013-01-01 Link to publication Citation for published version (APA): Chkanikova, O., Klintman, M., Kogg, B., Lehner, M., Mont, O., ...»

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Chkanikova, Olga; Klintman, Mikael; Kogg, Beatrice; Lehner, Matthias; Mont, Oksana;

Nebelius, Nathalie; Plepys, Andrius

Published: 2013-01-01

Link to publication

Citation for published version (APA):

Chkanikova, O., Klintman, M., Kogg, B., Lehner, M., Mont, O., Nebelius, N., & Plepys, A. (2013).


Reports; Vol. 2013:02). International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University.

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Download date: 13. Jul. 2016




Editor: Oksana Mont Contributing authors: Olga Chkanikova, Mikael Klintman, Beatrice Kogg, Matthias Lehner, Oksana Mont, Nathalie Nebelius, Andrius Plepys Lund University IIIEE Report 2013:02 December Acknowledgements We would like to express our gratitude to the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning1 for funding this project, and to the Swedish Retail and Wholesale Development Council2 for providing us with the opportunity to participate in the programme “Sustainable Retail” together with other research projects. This allowed us to delve into the fascinating challenges facing food retailers in the transition to sustainability in society.

This project would not have been possible without the support from participating large-chain Swedish and European retailers, especially ICA and Coop, Axfood, Bergendahls and Netto, Waitrose and Tesco (UK), Billa (Austria); Irma (Denmark), small eco-boutiques, other societal players, e.g.

Konsumentföreningen Stockholm, KRAV, and Svanen and of course consumers. Thank you all for generously sharing with us your valuable time and insights in interviews, focus groups and meetings.

It has been a pleasure to work with all of you. We are looking forward to future collaboration to promote sustainability in the retail sector.

Besides the main authors, this work has benefited from the research of Masters students at Lund University: Sigríður Droplaug Jónsdóttir, Peter Lindeblad, Daniel Olbe, Madeline Gunn, Emma Bengtsson, Emma Rogers, Malvina Hagbjörk, Joel Bernard Eriksson, Linda Roslund, Amanda Harlén, Emelie Widerberg, Daniel Andersen, Anna Hannukka, Frida Simonson, Evelina Persson, Madeleine Brask, and Jonatan Kjellin.


Handelns Utvecklingsråd Executive summaryProblem definition

Food retailers have an important role to play in the transition towards sustainable consumption and production. They are entrusted by society with the management of the food system, with influencing consumer choices, and with raising consumer awareness about products. They are also the players who translate consumer demand for sustainable food into specific strategies for greening supply chains, including suppliers, products and services. Through this process, food retailers engage in defining and socially structuring sustainable consumption.

However, defining sustainable consumption is not an easy task, as it involves balancing multiple interests, such as business priorities, societal and stakeholder expectations and scientific knowledge, on sustainability impact. The critical question is how food retailers manage to convert environmental and social pressures into business opportunities. Current reviews of food retailer practices indicate some discrepancy between societal expectations of retailers, the actual implementation of sustainability strategies, and retailers’ own ambitions to develop green markets.

Research question The main objective of the project was to analyse how individual food retailers can help to create

more sustainable markets by:

Stimulating suppliers to develop and provide products that are more environmentally and socially sound.

Improving environmental performance and stimulating environmentally sound innovation in the retailers’ own local shops, operations, and in their head offices.

Influencing and helping consumers to choose more sustainable products through innovative information, product placement, labelling, and marketing strategies and tools.

Methodology and research design in brief

This project employed the value chain perspective. We investigated possible pathways towards ecological sustainability in food retail by focusing not only on food retailers and their sustainabilityoriented strategies and practices, but also on the way they interact with other players in the chain, namely suppliers and consumers. The project consists of three studies.

The first study examined the ways in which European and Swedish retailers work with their suppliers. The second study analysed how European and Swedish retailers are reducing the impact of their own operations and premises. The third study analysed how European and Swedish retailers are working to promote markets of green products and what more could be done to shape and enable more sustainable consumer choices.

The empirical data were collected through approximately 120 interviews, about 20 observations in local stores, and focus groups with 30 representatives of various stakeholders. Secondary sources of information included corporate data, e.g. annual and sustainability reports, consultancy reports, and academic articles and books.

Main findings

Food retailers are critical players in driving the sustainability of the food chain and in promoting the market for green products. They are often called the gatekeepers, possessing considerable power to introduce sustainability thinking into the value chains. In doing so, they face multiple challenges, starting from conceptualising what sustainability actually means for their own operations, how to strike a balance between business bottom-line, stakeholder pressure and consumer expectations, how to address the risks and uncertainties associated with continually evolving markets and societal demand, and how to turn the sustainability discourse into long-term business opportunities.

This project analysed how food retailers help to create green markets by stimulating supply of more sustainable products, by improving in-house innovation to reduce direct environmental impact from retail operations, and by helping consumers in their daily food choices by providing information, product disposition, marketing and other communication channels.

The study of retailers’ strategies upstream revealed that one of the most challenging issues for food production and retail is the higher production costs of green products compared to ordinary ones.

To resolve this problem, some retailers are compelled to subsidise the end price of green products (usually their own brands), which undermines their business case in the short term. Many food retailers are therefore calling for policy action to set the prices at a level to make environmentally and socially sound products more attractive and competitive on the market, and thereby strengthen the business argument for sustainable consumption.

Another problem identified by retailers is low production volumes of sustainable food products, especially in some product categories, e.g. ecological chicken, or insufficient import of such products, e.g. ecological bananas. If food is produced in Sweden, then the problem is often the limited range of available produce. This narrows the green market in terms of volumes and quality at the right price.

Retailers also play an important role by greening their own operations; the innovation process is affected by the organisational structure. By studying the hierarchically-managed Coop and the more decentralised ICA we can conclude that in Coop many ideas are generated or at least mobilised at central level, while in ICA this phase mostly takes place in individual shops, leading to greater flexibility in idea generation. When it comes to the implementation phase, however, Coop’s centralised structures and processes seem to be more effective and efficient in exploiting and replicating innovative ideas across its stores. Therefore, organisational structure of food retail chains only partially influences the eco-innovation process; other aspects, such as human factors and management practices at central and store level affect the efficiency of eco-innovation uptake at different levels in the organisation.

Retailers are playing a critical role in greening markets of products and services. All the large Swedish retail chains offer various ranges of green products and are also engaged in influencing other parts of the food value chain, including agriculture and food processing. However, markets of green products are still niche markets, ranging between 1% for Fair Trade products and 3.6% for organic products. Green products are still often more expensive than conventional ones and are typically targeted to a small group of consumers rather than mainstream consumers. For some products there is an oversupply of green alternatives, while others experience shortages and cannot satisfy demand. Furthermore, there is lack of clear understanding of what sustainable food actually is and what kind of products consumers should give priority to in terms of a lifecycle perspective, such as local conventionally produced products or green products delivered from distant countries.

The main finding of this study is that, despite the fact that retailers are often perceived as powerful players in supply chains, they do not always have sufficient authority to coercively influence the markets of green products. On the one hand, they sometimes lack power in their relations with suppliers when they want to influence compliance with sustainability requirements. For instance, their power might be constrained in situations when there are few large suppliers on the market, such as in the coffee and fish subsectors, or when wholesale purchasing volumes are low. On the other hand, retailers are also locked-in by the institutional setting, in which green products are more expensive. This leads to the value-action gap among highly environmentally aware Swedish consumers, who are not always willing to pay premium prices for environmental quality.


This situation calls for a more coordinated and holistic approach towards sustainable consumption and production in food retail. Retailers’ work should be supported by policy measures that would make sustainable food consumption an everyday reality for mainstream consumers, not just for the relatively few people prepared to pay premium prices for healthy and clean food. This may imply levelling off price differences between conventional and green products through various measures.

Other support measures could involve assisting retailers by facilitating the development of thirdparty sustainability standards and certification schemes, by developing information databases that rank products and suppliers according to their sustainability performance, and by helping to transform production methods towards more sustainable farming. Policy-making could also help the green markets by advancing work on developing sustainable food recommendations and by monitoring green market claims to help avoid misleading claims.

Retailers should advance their collaboration on developing a common approach to defining ‘sustainable food consumption’ and retailer sector responsibilities towards greening supply chains, including capacity development among suppliers. Collaborative effort is also important for placing clear demands on policy-makers to promote green and sustainable markets. Retailers should further advance their work on greening their own operations, especially when it comes to establishing dedicated management structures and clear communication channels on eco-innovation, as well as disseminating eco-innovation projects to a larger number of stores.

In their communication with consumers, retailers could further diversify their sustainability offers and explore alternative communication channels to attract various consumer segments, e.g. those who value more social distinction and specific lifestyles not necessarily linked to environmental values. To enable this, local stores could assume a more prominent role in contextualising sustainability to link sustainability issues to concerns, interests and lifestyles of various consumer segments in specific locations.

Contents Acknowledgements

Executive summary

1 The role of retail in greening markets

1.1 Background

1.2 Objective of the project

1.3 Research design

1.4 Scope of the project

1.5 Target groups

1.6 Report outline

2 Food retail landscape

2.1 Main trends in food retail

2.2 Drivers and barriers for Swedish food retailers to engage in sustainability practices......... 16 2.2.1 Drivers of sustainability work

2.2.2 Barriers to sustainability work

3 Upstream activities of Swedish retailers and sustainability

3.1 Introduction: critical corporate tasks for greening a supply chain

3.2 Sustainable supply chain management in Swedish food retailing

3.2.1 Defining sustainable choices

3.2.2 Exercising positive influence over suppliers

3.2.3 Exercising control over relevant aspects in the supply chain

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