New, digital consumer trends challenge traditional food value chains that are mainly designed for volume production and supply. New digital business models are developed, partly as a response to increasing consumer power. Examples include food networks on digital platforms and powerful global platform players entering the food market with their marketplace initiatives and own brands (e.g. Amazon and Alibaba).
The Digifood-project explores how digitalization stimulates the growth of new food networks (alternative food networks - AFN). The foundation for the project is the independent REKO-phenomenon that recent years has grown to become a significant "actor" in the Nordic market for local food. REKO is however, dependent on Facebook as its platform, has no formal organization and is difficult to regulate. This makes the network vulnerable and illustrates how AFN's also have their own sustainability challenges.
In 2021, the project has in different ways followed all the 103 REKO-rings in Norway: We have conducted two surveys, one covering all rings and collecting data from consumers, producers and admins; the other local focusing particularly on rings that have tried out new functions and solutions. Also, data from delivery sites and Facebook data has been collected along with observational data to better understand and explain variability in exposure and revenue within and across rings as well as differences in the social dimension of AFN's.
We have organized the yearly event at Bygdøy on alternative food networks with significant attention from participants both on site and online. We have also given several presentations for users, such as at the NBS yearly summit and at several events organized by the County Governor's. Throughout the year we have also been in close dialogue with both particular rings and particular food platforms to supervise these on individual matters regarding commercial and social dimensions of AFN's. Media coverage of the project has also been considerable in 2021, and on December 17th, Kristin Bentsen defended her doctoral dissertation based on three years of data from Norwegian REKO-rings, admin and national REKO-sites. Consequently, the project has already produced its first PhD on alternative food networks.
The Digifood project addresses the disruptive potential of digital platforms in food value chains. We analyze the Nordic, platform-based local food market phenomenon Reko, develop and disseminate knowledge of how it can stimulate radical market innovation in food value chains and help it transform into a sustainable digital food system.
The research questions are: What kinds of alternative food networks (AFN) evolve as a consequence of digitalization and digital platforms?; What local, regional and national factors influence how such AFN's evolve into significant food markets?; and finally; How can such AFN's transform food value chains and become truly sustainable local food systems?. The project will conduct studies at the local (Reko-ring members), regional (regional Reko-contexts) and national (Nordic countries) levels. Because Reko uses Facebook as the digital platform, we can conduct advanced multi-level analysis of large data volumes that complements previous research conducted at only one of the three levels independently. As Reko's success formula is fragile, the project also includes an action-oriented WP that develops guidelines for how its platform and ecosystem should be further developed to secure growth and sustainability.
The project mainly funds a PhD-fellow at USN, but includes a strong network of Nordic researchers on market innovation. It involves industry partners serving as recruitment and dissemination partners for SME-involvement. The project will involve more than 20 SME's in data collection, knowledge sharing and dissemination activities. They will participate in short, intensive activities ensuring high engagement based on the project group's experience from previous industry projects. Digifood aims to establish the involved research network as internationally known for its competence on market innovation, also within the context of food markets through academic and popular publications as well as direct interaction with industry.