Sustainable Supply Chain Management in Food Retailing : Insights into corporate practice of managing supplier relationships

Sammanfattning: Addressing sustainability concerns in supply chain operations can be a matter of long-term business survival for food retailers. However, regardless of whether it is perceived as a risk or market opportunity, acting across the value chain to address unsustainable production and consumption practices has been a constant challenge. This thesis investigated the sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) practices in food retailing as a strategy to create environmentally and socially responsible food supply chains. These practices include ways of managing supplier relationships and associated institutions (third-party sustainability certification and mechanism of private eco-branding) to promote a sustainably produced product supply. SSCM practices have been investigated among Swedish and West European food retailers known for their active engagement with sustainability initiatives in their supply chains. The overarching research design can be best described as a multiple embedded case study design, with 28 semi-structured interviews serving as a primary source of empirical evidence. The study develops a dynamic and contextual perspective on the SSCM phenomenon, building on insights offered by the New Institutional Economics theory and a broader field of institutional analysis, as well as perspectives offered by a Dynamic Capabilities theory. This moves research in the field of SSCM away from simple inventories of SSCM practices towards more theory-building. More specifically, this study demonstrates that corporate choice of relationship management practices with suppliers and associated institutions, with the aim of influencing and controlling product compliance with environmental and social criteria, depends on: 1) the contextual realities of the broader institutional field, 2) the specificity of the supply chain/transactional context, 3) the interplay between these two contexts, and 4) the design of the existing sustainability certification schemes. This study confirms the role of third-party sustainability certification as a vital market institution for faciliating retailer engagement with SSCM practices. However, it also provides evidence that existing sustainability certifications do not always enable retailers to develop sustainability-based supply chains in a competitive and low-risk manner. Consequently, retailers work to develop novel institutions, such as private eco-branding and retail-driven certification schemes. These schemes have greater impact on the availability of a green product supply than when only existing third-party certification institutions are used. Both private eco-brands and novel certifications provide opportunities for developing dynamic capabilities and thereby a sustained competitive advantage.However, in developing novel institutions, retailers still rely heavily on existing third-party sustainability certifications, utilising auditing procedures and tacit knowledge associated with certification development. Based on these findings it is suggested that multiple certification schemes are not necessarily problematic. They may even be advantageous from a SSCM perspective, in that retailers may be encouraged to engage with greening their product supply.