Toward A More Sustainable Food Supply Network: An Economic Analysis of Sustainability in the United States Food Industry

By Morgan Bulger
2014, Vol. 10 No. 1 | pg. 4/4 |

Although vertically integrated corporations are more aware of externalities such as soil degradation, they are less likely to take sustainable action. This is most logically explained by the fact that these corporations feel less pressure from the external market because so much of the supply chain is contained within their own corporation. If the incentives for action are not present, a corporation is not going to take action even if they are aware of an externality.

As executive vice president of food distribution company Labatt Food Service explains, “there’s this tension between doing the right thing and doing the least expensive” (T. Canty, personal communication, March, 18, 2013). Ultimately, if a there is no incentive for them to act sustainably.

The final conclusion from the above regressions is that although a higher level of awareness will lead to a higher level of risk perception, this does not imply that a higher level of opportunity perception will lead to more sustainable action. This slight disconnect in the thought process of corporations is pivotal to understanding how to encourage sustainable action. Many corporations interviewed reported demand for it, and therefore no incentives to take action, even if they were aware of the externalities and the risk they posed their company. As Michael Neuwirth, the senior director of public relations for the Dannon company states:

“I don’t believe that consumer awareness of the realities of environmental and social impacts of food companies is high. I believe that the awareness is quite low...among mainstream consumers. ... The number one reason why people buy a particular food is the taste, price is the second. Environmental and social impact are very low” (M. Neuwirth, personal communication, March 1, 2013).

However, representatives of corporations who had taken reported having “gained competitive advantage by having taking initiative and leadership on these issues” (M. Greenawalt, personal communication, March 15) before there was a consumer demand for solutions to externalities of the food system.

Based on the above regression analysis and the interviews conducted, it is clear that food companies currently in the food supply chain system can take sustainable action if properly incentivized, just as a company in any other industry. Acknowledging that this is a business opportunity, some corporations are currently leading the way towards a sustainable food supply system, typically by and core competencies. However, many companies are still unaware that these environmental and social externalities exist along the food supply system, and even fewer recognize these externalities as opportunities to better our planet while improving their financial performance.

While several relationships and conclusions have become clear from this survey and interview, further research is required to determine what exactly incentivizes corporations to view environmental and social externalities as opportunities to create sustainable solutions and gain competitive advantage. Endless opportunities exist within the food industry to create truly innovative solutions to global problems such as hunger, social injustice, and nutrition-related diseases, as well as land, oceanic, and atmospheric degradation and pollution. It is important that the intricacies of incentives and corporate motivations for sustainable actions are further researched to get one step closer towards a more sustainable food supply network.


I would like to thank my advisors Bonnie Richley and Tony Lingham for all of their advice and guidance on this project. I would also like to thank Sheila Pedigo and Bethany their assistance in these research endeavors. I am also very appreciative and Case Western Reserve University for funding and the opportunity to conduct this research. Finally I would like to thank any and all participants in my survey and interview who made this research possible.


Beyster, J. (2008). Embracing Change Through Employee Ownership. , 45(3), 28-31

BLANDY, D., & FENN, J. (2012). Sustainability: Sustaining Cities and Community Cultural Development. Studies In Art Education, 53(4), 270- 282.

Bloomberg Food Wholesale/Distribution Companies, (2013). Bloomberg. Retrieved from wholesale-distrib/

Carmona, R. H., (2005). Improving health literacy: Preventing obesity with education. Journal of the American Dietetic Association vol. 105 issue 5 May, 2005. p. 9-10

Food Processing’s Top 100, (2013). Food Processing. Retrieved from

Guinee, J.B., & Heijungs, R., (2011). Life cycle sustainability analysis: Framing questions for approaches. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 15, 5, 656- 658.

Helweil, B, (2010). Organic food can solve world hunger. Organic Food and Farming, 81-87.

Jackson, W., (2010). Consulting the genius of the place: An ecological approach to a new agriculture. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press.

Mackenzie, F. T., Ver, L. M., Lerman, A. (2002). Century-scale nitrogen and phosphorus controls of the carbon cycle. Chemical Geology,

Martin, J. (2009). Fair Trade. FSB: Fortune Small Business, 19(5), 76-79 Orr, V. (2012). LEED Standard. Alaska Business Monthly, 28(2), 40-43

Patel, R., (2007). Stuffed and starved: The hidden battle for the world food system (6th ed.). Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing.


Figure 2

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

The copious amounts of forgotten and disregarded food that are tossed mindlessly into our landfills are a global travesty of massive proportions. Americans alone waste enough food in a day to transform the Rose Bowl, a football stadium capable of seating 90,000 people, into a landfill (Bloom, 2010). As an affluent nation, securely... MORE»
The concept of food security is dynamic; it has been changing to incorporate new ideas over the years since it was established. In this piece, I will argue that if cultural acceptability is to be added as a tenant of food security then so must sustainability. Cultural acceptability addresses the needs of various ethnicities, for example providing kosher foods for the Jewish population and halal foods for the followers of Islam. Since there is a new... MORE»
This paper examines the potential effect of decreasing honeybee population on crop prices by estimating the relationship between honeybee population and the price of almonds over time. As a declining honeybee population... MORE»
Chipotle Mexican Grill has revolutionized the fast food industry. In a short time, the brand has served as inspiration for the growing "fast casual" segment of the food industry and has become an American cultural phenomenon. Through its use of social media and corporate social responsibility marketing strategies, the brand has... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in Economics

2020, Vol. 12 No. 09
Recent work with the Economic Complexity Index (ECI) has shown that a country’s productive structure constrains its level of economic growth and income inequality. Building on previous research that identified an increasing gap between Latin... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 10
The value proposition in the commercial setting is the functional relationship of quality and price. It is held to be a utility maximizing function of the relationship between buyer and seller. Its proponents assert that translation of the value... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 03
Devastated by an economic collapse at the end of the 20th century, Japan’s economy entered a decade long period of stagnation. Now, Japan has found stable leadership, but attempts at new economic growth have fallen through. A combination of... Read Article »
2014, Vol. 6 No. 10
In July 2012, Spain's unemployment rate was above 20%, its stock market was at its lowest point in a decade, and the government was borrowing at a rate of 7.6%. With domestic demand depleted and no sign of recovery in sight, President Mariano Rajoy... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 10
During the periods of the Agrarian Revolt and the 1920s, farmers were unhappy with the economic conditions in which they found themselves. Both periods witnessed the ascent of political movements that endeavored to aid farmers in their economic... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 7 No. 2
Published by Clocks and Clouds
In 2009, Brazil was in the path to become a superpower. Immune to the economic crises of 2008, the country's economy benefitted from the commodity boom, achieving a growth rate of 7.5 per cent in 2010, when Rousseff was elected. A few years later... Read Article »
2012, Vol. 2 No. 1
Published by Clocks and Clouds
The research completed aimed to show that the idea of fair trade, using the example of goals for the chocolate industry of the Ivory Coast, can be described as an example of the economic ideal which Karl Marx imagined. By comparing specific topics... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


How to Read for Grad School
5 Tips for Publishing Your First Academic Article
How to Select a Graduate Research Advisor