Beyond the Blemishes
Causes and Governance of Food Loss in Upstream Fruit and Vegetable Supply ChainsDissertation
Datum der mündl. Prüfung:2023-10-18
Betreuer:Prof. Dr. Martin Banse
Gutachter:Prof. Dr. Martin Banse
Gutachter:Prof. Dr. Stephan von Cramon-Taubadel
EnglischA significant amount of food produced worldwide is lost and wasted along the supply chain. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that approximately 13 % of food is lost between harvest and retail, while the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states that an additional 17 % is wasted between retail and consumption. In Germany alone, food loss and waste along the value chain amounts to 12 million tonnes per year. Among the food groups, fruit and vegetables suffer the highest levels of loss and waste due to their perishable nature. Particularly, in the primary production of fruit and vegetables, loss is estimated to be many times higher than for other agricultural product groups, although data in this area are particularly limited and controversial. The existence of high levels of food loss and waste seems paradoxical when one tenth of the world’s population suffers from hunger and one third does not have regular access to adequate food. In addition, the environmental challenges associated with food loss and waste make it an urgent problem to address. The production and subsequent wastage of food contributes to climate change, the use and degradation of resources such as water and soil and the eutrophication and acidification of water bodies that could have been avoided. It is estimated that 8 % of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food loss and waste. The causes of food loss and waste encompass various factors, including pests, diseases, weather conditions, market dynamics as well as policy and business frameworks. Particularly, the interactions and power relations among actors in the upstream fruit and vegetable supply chains within increasingly concentrated agricultural markets are suspected to play a significant role. The establishment of private quality standards has recently been identified as a driver of food loss in upstream supply chains, as it leads to the exclusion of theoretically edible but - according to the specific standards - suboptimal fruit and vegetables from the market. The overall aim of this thesis is to examine drivers and courses of action concerning food loss in the pre-retail fruit and vegetable supply chains in European countries. This dissertation aims to unravel the interactions and power relations between value chain actors and the impact of private product requirements as drivers of food loss in these supply chains. Furthermore, it seeks to identify potential actions that can be undertaken by the private sector and policymakers to reduce food loss in these supply chains. This research is unique in that it addresses the interplay of power relations and causes of food loss in agri-food supply chains and seeks to understand them through the use of a wide range of methodological techniques and interdisciplinary perspectives. This cumulative thesis consists of three scientific articles. The first article identifies inter-stage drivers of food loss in fruit and vegetable supply chains in Germany. It analyses these drivers in the context of power relations between supply chain actors at the interface between primary production and food retailing. The second article examines how specific standards and practices of a large German food retailer influence food loss in the upstream supply chains of selected fruit and vegetable crops, based on a case study. The third article presents the perspectives and demands of supply chain actors regarding policy and private sector actions to reduce food loss. The analyses are based on a series of expert interviews conducted with different actors in German fruit and vegetable supply chains, ranging from farmers to producer organisations and other intermediaries to retailers. An online survey of suppliers of the aforementioned retailer in Germany, Italy and Spain forms the second methodological component. The results demonstrate that retailers possess the ability to govern the supply chain and to transfer the responsibility for and the risk to incur food loss onto upstream suppliers and farmers. This exercise of power is evident in the relationship between retailers and upstream actors, manifested through unreliable contractual clauses and agreements, commercial practices, ordering procedures, modes of communication and product requirements. The private product requirements established by food retailers are shown to be one such aspect in which power relations become apparent and lead to food loss among suppliers. The case study reveals that, on average, 15 % of the total harvestable production in the field fails to meet the retailer’s product specifications. Approximately 6 % of the total production is lost as food due to these requirements. This proportion is used as animal feed and non-food, disposed of as waste or not harvested at all, while the rest is still marketed elsewhere. The main product requirements responsible for food loss are identified as calibre (mass and size) specifications and maximum pesticide residue limits set by retailers. Business practices, such as poorly coordinated promotions, complaints, short-term changes to quantity requirements and inadequate quantity planning and ordering procedures, interact with these product requirements leading to food loss. To counteract the drivers of food loss in upstream fruit and vegetable supply chains, policy instruments and private sector actions are identified. These efforts should aim to educate consumers, enhance the reliability of quantity and order planning, foster cooperation along the supply chain, facilitate the inclusion of suboptimal and surplus products within the supply chain and strengthen the bargaining position of farmers and suppliers, for example by promoting alternative marketing and processing options. In summary, the thesis highlights that the structure of business relationships among actors in fruit and vegetable supply chains significantly influences the occurrence of food loss in upstream stages of the supply chain. These relationships between actors in the supply chain are also shaped by power dynamics, which are evident through subtle mechanisms that have the potential to cause food loss. Addressing these inter-stage drivers requires interventions that extend beyond individual stages. The design of such interventions also needs to consider how to incentivise retailers, among other actors, to address food loss resulting from their actions at other stages. The current policy focus in some European countries on voluntary action by supply chain actors may in this regard not be sufficient. Designing effective policies also necessitates considering other concerns within and outside the food system, balancing potentially conflicting objectives and accounting for the rebound-effects of potential policies. Notably, the indirect effect of many aspects of upstream supply chains on food loss, such as the issue of Unfair Trading Practices (UTP), business conduct, diverse marketing channels and consumer behaviour, underscore the need for a holistic understanding of food loss and waste generation to achieve a more sustainable food system. Some of the findings on drivers of food loss may be applicable to other agricultural products and regions. However, specific and evolving frameworks can easily give rise to the emergence of divergent practices and thus other mechanisms that contribute to food loss in agricultural supply chains. Further research is required to validate and generalise the findings on drivers and governance of food loss presented in this dissertation. This research should aim to build upon more reliable data on food loss and waste. This in turn requires direct measurement and regular monitoring of food loss in upstream agricultural supply chains, including the pre-harvest level. Future studies should also explore the mechanisms and drivers that span multiple stages of the supply chain as well as the role of power constellations in other product groups, supply chains and regions. Furthermore, the suggested policy and private sector options for action proposed in this dissertation should be quantitatively evaluated in terms of their effectiveness and efficiency.
Keywords: food waste; policy; market power; product specifications; quality standards; Europe; bargaining power