Profits, people and planet in the UK fresh food supply chain

Jan Moorhouse, Ross Brennan

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The theme of the 31st IMP conference is sustainability in B2B relationships and networks. While sustainability can be interpreted in various different ways, two prominent definitions are: ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (WCED., 1987); and, ‘consuming resources at a rate which allows them to be replaced, and only producing pollution at a rate that the environment can assimilate’ (Peattie, 1995:33). Following the work of Elkington (1994) in accounting this is often summarized as the triple bottom-line, or, popularly, as ‘profits, people and planet’. However, not everyone agrees with the implicitly optimistic stance of triple bottom-line advocates, that global capitalism (profits) can be successfully reconciled with social (people) and environmental (planet) progress. For example, Fleming and Jones (2013) argue that corporations continue to act in the interests of a small number of stakeholders (notably, senior managers and equity holders), and so are incapable of delivering outcomes that are beneficial to society as a whole. The UK fresh food supply chain represents a fascinating context in which to explore the feasibility of reconciling profits, people and planet. This sector is characterized by substantial power imbalances with power asymmetries that favour large supermarkets and their preferred lead suppliers (Hingley, 2005; Hingley & Hollingsworth, 2003; Hingley & Lindgreen, 2001). As a consequence British food producers come under severe pressure from their customers, not only to deliver ever-greater cost savings but also to absorb market-related risks encountered by the supermarkets. Official analysis of the problems arising from these circumstances is couched in terms of ‘markets’, ‘marketing’ and ‘market failure’ (DEFRA, 2002). This paper investigates how markets, marketing and market failure are understood and interpreted by actors in the UK fresh produce sector, using qualitative data from 21 recently conducted interviews. As well as the tensions between ‘people, planet and profit’, key concepts from prior IMP studies in the food sector are investigated in this context, including retailer dominance, relationship management, parallel networks, and the way that markets are constructed in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIMP Conference
Place of PublicationKolding, Denmark
PublisherUniversity of Southern Denmark
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Event31st Annual IMP Conference - Kolding, Denmark
Duration: 25 Aug 201529 Aug 2015


Conference31st Annual IMP Conference


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