Can incumbents accelerate the sustainable transition of food systems? Nordic case studies of the food processing industry

  • Simon Bolwig (Speaker)
  • Anne Nygaard Tanner (Other)
  • Jay Sterling Gregg (Other)

Activity: Talks and presentationsConference presentations


The sustainability transition literature lacks an understanding of the incentives and opportunities for large incumbents to innovate. In particular, there is a gap in the literature when it comes to understanding which factors influence the incentives and opportunities for incumbents’ sustainable business strategies. In this paper, we focus on incumbents’ strategies for turning side streams and rest-material in the food processing industry into higher value products, and hereby reducing environmental impacts by increasing the efficiency and circularity of biological resource use. This paper distinguish between factors that influence the ‘incentive to innovate’ (i.e., profitability, regulation and market demand) and the ‘opportunity to innovate’ (i.e., technological, complementary and reputational assets as well as the materiality characteristics of the side streams). Empirically, we apply the framework on three distinct food-processing systems, namely brewery, dairy and meat. We conclude that while the incentive for all three sectors are high the opportunity to innovate vary across the industries resulting in different degrees of (sustainable) valorisation of side streams and residues. Based on these results, we discuss the role of some key factors – materiality characteristics, internationalization of markets and reputational assets – for understanding sustainable transition to a bioeconomy and conclude with recommendations for policy makers to stimulate sustainable development of food systems.
Period25 Jun 2019
Event titleInternational Sustainable Transitions Conference 2019
Event typeConference
Conference number11
LocationOttawa, Canada, OntarioShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Circular economy, bioeconomy, organic waste, business strategies, innovation