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Paper info: The co-operative business ethos: Itís contribution to sustainable local food supply An investigation of retailer co-operatives in Finland and Italy


The co-operative business ethos: Itís contribution to sustainable local food supply An investigation of retailer co-operatives in Finland and Italy


Daniele Asioli, Martin Hingley, Maurizio Canavari and Minna Mikkola

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 27th IMP-conference in Glasgow, Scotland in 2011.



Investigated is the premise that co-operative organisational structures, for reasons of
their long-term socially responsible origins are at the forefront of development of
local and sustainable food systems and are thereby in a position to offer a specific
contribution to sustainable business development. To this end retail co-operation is
highlighted because of its ideals: member mutualism and community/stakeholder
centred business (Hingley, 2010; Novkovic, 2008); with the focus on retailer cooperative
businesses in Europe.
The context of the paper is in the supply of local and sustainable food, and retailer cooperatives
as their entry points within local conditions. Emphasis is on localised food
networks and connection between environmentally as well as socially sustainable
production, distribution and consumption (Duffy et al, 2005; Jones et al, 2004;
Weatherell et al, 2003).
Two key research questions are proposed: Does the co-operative organisational
structure and ethos contribute specifically and uniquely to sustainable local food
marketing? Secondly, do European retailer co-operatives express support for relocalising
food systems; and what contribution do they make concerning sustainable
food and their relationships with local food suppliers? The paper is structured in the
following way. The concept and context of sustainability in food production,
marketing and distributive systems is explored; and an understanding of the
importance of the definition of local food outlined. The historical and contextual
development and business orientation of retailer co-operatives is investigated,
specifically concerning their impact on ethical and socially oriented business, which
has reached more recent attention as a business model and philosophy under the guise
of Corporate Social Responsibility- CSR.
This study makes a contribution to knowledge concerning the role of co-operatives
and the co-operative ethos in sustainable food system production and development of
the local food economy; and thereby a positive contribution to (most notably)
sustainable communities. Co-operative ethos concerning responsible and ethical
behaviour is to the fore in co-operative retailer chains in the two European countries
investigated, and this corroborates prior studies linking the distinct inclination and
contribution of co-operative retail businesses in building and maintaining community
networks/social responsibility and so forth; via support for local food networks
(Hingley, 2010).
Local food supply, co-operative business ethos, retailer co-operatives, Europe,