Food Provision Transitions: An Audit of the Digital Landscape in Ireland

Claire O’Neill, Shadi Hashem, Mary McCarthy, University College Cork, Ireland

The Irish food provisioning system can be characterised as one dominated by a small number of large operators, with the top 5 retailers accounting for about 90% of grocery sales. However, in recent years a transformation of this system is evident, with the emergence of a number of alternative routes to market that support smaller scale operators. Included in this transformation is the rise of the digital route, where an annualised sales growth rate of 25% is reported. Despite this, little attention has yet been given to profiling businesses offering such services. The objective of this research is to audit/profile current operators and characterise them based on how they present themselves and the services they provide. Within this context, business models are considered to identify the extent to which this development represents a pipeline for a business or a platform to connect suppliers and buyers. A desk analysis was carried out on 70 food companies offering a digital route to market. These food provisioning systems were identified and analysed as either traditional food pipelines, i.e. e-commerce sites, or food platforms, i.e. sites connecting sellers and buyers. Results indicate that the traditional pipeline structure remains the dominant form of digital food-provisioning. Only 2 providers are classified as a platform structure. In terms of how these companies present themselves to prospective stakeholders, multiple sustainability-related claims have been identified as core goals across all digital food provisioning sites surveyed. These claims include commitment to health and wellbeing, protection of cultural heritage, provision and commitment to local food, and expressions of commitment to environmental protection