Mind the Gap: Between the Chain and the Platform

Emanuela Bozzini, Francesca Forno, Natalia Magnani, Filippo Oncini, University of Trento, Italy

Over the past few years, the world economy has assisted to the rise and success of the so-called platform business model. This innovation in the digital framework partially reconfigured the way users and producers engage by providing an intermediary service that facilitate interactions and economic transactions. The rise of platform capitalism has made inroad also in the food-provisioning sector, although many traditional e-commerce models still coexist alongside the new platform options.

Despite food economies and food sharing initiatives have gone digital since several years, still lacking is a systematic depiction and categorisation of the existing web organisations. Making use of a unique dataset mapping all the Italian online food provisioning systems (N = 220), this study aims to shed light on the current transformations of the food provisioning sector, putting special emphasis i) on the relation between material and digital food supply, and ii) on the most important differences between food pipelines and food platforms. Three main indications emerge from the analysis of the data: first, there is a substantial continuity between the structure of the Italian brick-and-mortar stores and alternative food networks, and the emergence of traditional digital pipelines. Second, food platforms represents only a minority (5%) of the actual online food provisioning services. Third, platforms are still very heterogeneously organised, and differently from most economically successful examples in other sectors (e.g. Uber, Airbnb or Amazon Marketplace) still have not reached capillarity and the capacity to develop network effects.

We conclude by speculating on the factors hindering the growth of the platform food model, and by outlining the possibilities and obstacles that this model may pose to the sustainability Challenge