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Knowing Brand Wales: agro-food transitions in firms, innovation and governance

Carla, De Laurentis ORCID: and Cooke, Philip 2014. Knowing Brand Wales: agro-food transitions in firms, innovation and governance. Goodman, Michael K. and Sage, Colin, eds. Food Transgressions, Making Sense of Contemporary Food Politics, Critical Food Studies, Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 205-225.

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As the first industrial nation, the UK was one of the earliest countries to experience the industrialisation of agriculture, a process that led to an increase in productivity, with more and more food produced by fewer and fewer people. As a result of this productivist turn, UK agro-food production and processing technologies are today among the most advanced in the world (Goodman & Watts, 1997). The sector as a whole is characterised by high levels of scientific knowledge and expertise in research and development, product innovation and food supply-chain technologies. To a greater extent than in many other European countries, the supermarkets have become the key players in shaping food consumption patterns in the UK. The sector remains one of the most regulated, in the UK and internationally yet, despite this, productivism is regularly prone to ‘food scares’ in which disease may move systemically through major agro-food supply chains (Cooke, 2007). Cases of UK ‘food scares’ have been well documented and lethal, ranging from ‘mad cow’ to ‘e-coli’ including the (2010) entry of unregulated transgenic milk and meat into the food chain. This suggests that although British agro-food production has been substantially re-institutionalised (with the closure of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in 2000 and its replacement by DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency) the new system is by no means fool proof. Accordingly, economic, environmental and consumer pressures have strongly influenced development in the UK agro-food industry in recent years. But agro-food has experienced significant structural change as, product, process and organizational innovation and renewal efforts have been implemented to respond to new customer demands. These include: obesity concerns: high salt content in processed food; health-labelling (something some producers and supermarkets are still reluctant to implement except on their own terms); and the undoubted rise, albeit from a low base of demand, for organically produced food. Producers of industrial food are under increasing market pressure to develop more dedicated products and marketing strategies by emphasising domestic, locally-produced or organic qualities without losing the efficiency of standardised production and distribution technologies. In the organic food sector innovation efforts are carried out to better standardise products and technologies and expand markets without losing the dedicated product qualities (assumed health and ecological benefits) which differentiate them from mainstream products. There is also an extra tension as firm strategies try on the one hand, to broaden the customer base by selling through the large-scale distribution channels of supermarket chains and, on the other, seek to avoid that route and utilise more localised distribution involving less energy expenditure. Those in the latter category hold that supermarket distribution compromises the more ‘sustainable’ product profile of organic food, shifting it in the direction of conventional food products which might be regarded as unhealthy and unsound. In what follows we provide an analysis based on a funded research investigation of the UK, and particularly the Welsh agro-food industry, in order to understand the extent to which it has demonstrated innovation in escaping its productivist post-war cage. The chapter has three main aims: first, we seek to better understand the extent to which current practices appear to transgress inherited food production and consumption norms. Second, we seek to explore how an emerging new ‘paradigm’ of production and ‘regime’ regulating consumption impact market access. Third, we ask to what extent is Wales exploring ‘new path creation’ in the face of a hitherto dominant productivist paradigm and if so, why and with what effects elsewhere? In Wales, as opposed to other parts of the UK, this appears to be introducing a distinctive process of transition from dairy to premium grassland meat production.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Architecture
Subjects: S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
T Technology > TX Home economics
Publisher: Ashgate
ISBN: 9780754679707
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Last Modified: 25 Oct 2022 08:37

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