How can new food distribution platforms promote sustainability?
In the path of digitialization new initiatives in food distribution have followed. Food sharing apps, food box schemes, collective purchasing and online markets for locally produced food are some examples. Many of these new initiatives have a sustainability profile. But do they actually contribute to more sustainable food practices in households? If so – how? Researchers in the new project Plateforms are looking for answers.
The project involves studies in Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Italy and Germany. In the main part of the project the researchers will study households that use some of these new platforms. To understand everyday food practices researchers will interview members of 40 households in each country.
– The main idea is to see if and how these innovations change how the households buy, cook and eat food and also how food waste is handled. The initiatives have in common a sustainability profile but if using them actually leads to more sustainable food practices is not a given. There are very few studies that have looked into this, says Christian Fuentes, researcher at Centre for Consumer Research.
In another part of the study the researchers will conduct interventions in selected households. The idea is to initiate some change in the household, for example a food box subscription, and study how that affect food practices. Furthermore the researches aim to establish a partnership with one of the initiatives to see if changes in marketing activities, labeling and information material can lead to an increase in sales of sustainable products. The project also includes an inventory of food distribution platforms in selected European cities.
What are your hopes for the project?
– We want to understand how platforms like these can be designed and organized to promote sustainable consumption of food. This may involve how purchases are made, food transports, and the kinds of food that are consumed, but also how platforms change planning of everyday life, says Christian Fuentes.
Emma Samsoie is a postdoc at the Department of Service Management at Lund University and also a researcher in the project:
– For example we are interested in how platforms can help consumers coordinate food shopping with other everyday activities and obligations like preschool pickup, helping with homework and transportation between the children’s sports activities and such, says Emma Samsioe.
What kinds of platforms are we talking about?
– It’s everything from small consumer-driven networks that grow their own food and organize food swaps, to large commercial innovations like food box schemes, online retailers that offer home delivery and different kinds of niche stores, says Christian Fuentes.
How big are these platforms today?
– Many of them have relatively few users. Generally consumer driven platforms have fewer users than commercial. But on the whole these innovations have affected almost everyone, especially in Sweden, where most people at some point have made food purchases online or some food box, says Christian Fuentes.
What does existing research say about the connection between these new platforms for food distribution and increased sustainability in the households?
– Currently in research there is a tendency to forget about the consumers and everyday life. There are studies on how the supply side are organized, and on food consumption, but not on the connection between the innovations and households practices. The knowledge on this link will the main contribution of our study, says Christian Fuentes.
The project is conducted in collaboration with the Department of Service Management at Lund University.
The researchers in the Swedish part of the study are Christian Fuentes, Maria Fuentes and Emma Samsioe.
The project duration is three years and the Swedish part of the study is funded by Formas with SEK 3,1 million. Other participating partners are National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO) in Norway, University College Cork, Ireland, University of Trento, Italy and Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany.