When Local Food enters Retail - enactment of local food in Coop

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Maja Effersøe Khan
In recent years, an increasing demand for local food is seen both in Denmark and internationally and with the increasing demand, local food has also entered retail. Local food is a complex constructed concept, which is difficult to define and the perceptions of the different attributes connected to local are diverse. With local foods’ entry into retail, the complexity is increasing, as many perceive local food and the big, streamlined, ultra-professional food retailers as opposites. What happens when local food and retail meets?

Retailer perspectives are underexposed in the literature about local food, possibly because of a perceived binary between the bad global food system to which the retail sector is connected and the good alternative food system, which local food is seen as a part of. However, retail is a powerful player in the food system and as such has the potential to shape the food system. Therefore, retailer perspectives are important, as changes in retail for example around local food, potentially can have a proportionally huge impact, given the proportion of food sold through food retailers. This thesis sets out to investigate what happens to local when it enters retail. With the intention to grasp complexity around local food in retail, this research is conducted in Coop, Denmark’s largest retailer, who is in an interesting process of developing the concept of local food in the organization.

The research consists of eight semi-structured interviews conducted with employees from different departments and with different positions in Coop, who all in different ways are in touch with local food. This includes interviewees from respectively a Superbrugsen in Copenhagen and a Superbrugsen in the small island Møn. Additionally, interviews are conducted with interviewees from the marketing department of Superbrugsen, the CSR department, the department for quality and food safety and a purchasing department. Finally, both a project leader and a manager in the innovation department working with the concept development of local food in Coop are represented.

Enactment theory, a part of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), inspired by Annemarie Mol, is applied to understand how local food is enacted in different departments and from different positions in Coop and what the effects are of local food entering Coop. Furthermore, it should be mentioned, that Barbara Czarniawska, who spices ANT with a pinch of new institutionalism, in addition inspires the theoretical frame for how to understand an organization and organizational change.

The study concludes that local food is enacted very differently in the different departments and from the different positions in Coop. Even in the two different Superbrugsen stores, local food is enacted as differently as being a natural part of the local community in Møn and a foreign product in Copenhagen. Local food is enacted as a simple matter of supply and demand in one department and as an indirect way to educate and integrate CSR perspectives in the business in another. Furthermore, local food is enacted as a tool for differentiating from competitors, as being in need of a helping hand, as something that is in a development process, as an element in finding Coop’s DNA, as a potential risk and as a tool for focusing more on quality, just to mention some.

Furthermore, the research concludes that when local food enters Coop that does not just mean that local food expands. When local food enters Coop, they both change. They mutually adjust. Complexities are discussed and compromises and paradoxes arise. When local food enters Coop, local food changes. In short, there is a pressure on local to become regional or maybe even nationwide and a tendency to go from talking about (and acting on) local to talking about (and acting) a local flavour or a local link, as the local products for example become centrally distributed or need to be transported to a huge slaughterhouse. There is a pressure on local food to become more efficient and more professional.

However, when local food enters Coop, Coop changes too. Local food challenges some of the logics, which are usually applied in the business development. Local food brings Coop to reconsider their practices with regard to local food; from helping and educating the producers, to recognizing a mutual dependency; the profit must be equally distributed. When local food enters Coop, it adds a new dimension to the saying in Coop about the right products at the right price at the right time. Business with local producers must be on the right terms. However, this change or effect is only to a certain limit. It is stressed that the concept of local food is something else than how Coop usually works and it does not seem that these new realisations and methods is transferred to Coop’s usual business methods. Local food works as a bilateral agreement functioning on different terms.

Publication date10 Jun 2015
Number of pages76
ID: 213827665