Building digital technological capabilities for innovative circular economy models in food supply chain
Food loss and waste in the supply chain are a burning problem for all stakeholders. On the other side, environmental activists are raising their voices to stop food loss and waste for the sake of people and the planet. Controlling and minimizing food loss and waste is vital on this planet since the number of people impacted by hunger has escalated since 2014 . Statistical data shows that between harvest and retail, approximately 14% of food produced is lost globally, while an estimated 17% of total world food output is squandered (11 percent in households, 5 percent in the food service, and 2 percent in retail). Secondly, food waste and loss account for 38% of total energy use in the global food system. Thus, food loss and waste are increasing the burden on this planet significantly. For instance, all resources used in producing the crop, processing it, and bringing it to the consumer table go to waste when food is wasted. Moreover, food wastage and loss happen at the consumers’ end and at every stage of the supply chain. For instance, post-harvest and processing losses account for 40% of losses in developing nations, whereas retail and consumer losses account for over 40% of losses in developed countries.
Ultimately waste food material ends up in a landfill. Another problem on this planet is the rate at which waste is generated; there would be hardly any space left for building new landfills. This accommodation of waste is a common problem in developed and developing nations. One web article said that "Out of sight, out of mind" is adequate for many Americans, but a severe issue will undoubtedly arise if all stakeholders do not awake in response to the food loss and waste. Only after we address these problems, can we achieve sustainable development (SDG) goal 2 (zero hunger) and SDG goal 12 (responsible production and consumption), and perhaps several other goals as well.
The global trend shows a shift from the linear process to a circular economy (CE), where waste creation can be avoided first (Bag and Rahman, 2021). CE's three principles include eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials, and regenerating nature. Ellen Macarthur's foundation pointed out that climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution are among the global concerns the circular economy seeks to address. CE concept is also penetrating the food supply chain. There are many examples like “Apeel”, a company based in California in the United States that has started using innovative CE solutions where a layer of edible, plant-based coating is applied to fresh products to prevent deterioration of the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables. Through such a process, Apeel is reducing both food waste and plastic waste. Other examples include the case of a South American company called “Natura Brazil” which helped develop a regenerative economy in the Amazon forest. The third example is the case of “Planetarians” origin from San Francisco; the United States has devised a method for “processing animal feed into meat without the use of animals,” which will assist meet the world's growing protein demand. Planetarians technology allows for alternative meat production without the need for livestock.
While we can observe many practical examples showing the growing use of CE systems in food supply chains, there have been few scholarly investigations into CE strategies to improve food value chain sustainability (Sharma et al., 2019; Mehmood et al., 2021). The literature points out various challenges that impede the application of CE in the food supply chain. Poor government policies, lack of technology and techniques, and lack of farmers’ knowledge and awareness are some of the key driving challenges, according to the study by Sharma et al. (2019). A recent study by Ciccullo et al. (2021) suggested that adopting various technological choices can catalyze forming vertical collaborations between the technology adopter and another stage in the agri-food supply chain to combat food waste and loss through a coordinated supply chain effort. Collaboration or partnerships can lead to the development of CE strategies, which can further be monitored through a performance measurement system (Cavicchi and Vagnoni, 2022). Literature is ultimately pointing out that digital technologies (additive/robotic manufacturing, artificial intelligence, big data and analytics, blockchain technology, information modelling, platforms/marketplaces, digital twins, the geographical information system, material passports/databanks, and the internet of things [Iot]) (Cetin et al., 2021) can help to overcome the CE challenges by increasing visibility and resilience (Bag et al., 2021; Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Rana et al., 2021; Charnley et al., 2022).
Even with this nascent research, one crucial point remains unanswered/less discussed: how can we leverage digital technologies for innovative CE practices? Scopus search results with keywords “Digital technologies” and “Innovative Circular Economy” or “Industry 4.0 technology” and “Innovative Circular Economy” and “Sustainability in food supply chain” will not produce over 30 papers. After screening for relevance, perhaps only 10 to 12 papers will be helpful for a review. Here, the point is that less work has talked about how to use digital technologies to enhance CE innovation. With the handful of papers available in this direction, few studies spoke about a very interesting area - building technological capabilities that will help create a digital innovation ecosystem for CE (Warner and Wäger, 2019; Del Vecchio et al., 2021). This topic remains a critical yet understudied research topic that CE researchers should pay greater attention to in the future.
Similarly, Pizzi et al. (2021) also pointed out that digital platforms, particularly for small and medium businesses, can help them shift to circular business models. In another study, Rajala et al. (2018) also suggested that closed-loop systems in the circular economy rely more on digital platforms than ever before. Finally, the research article by Soldatos et al. (2021) unveiled a new digital platform for the CE that aims to facilitate a seamless and trusted information exchange among circular actors while also providing a suite of value-added services that allow manufacturers, remanufacturers, recyclers, and other stakeholders to gain insight. Food loss and waste in the supply chain are a burning problem for all stakeholders. On the other side, environmental activists are raising their voices to stop food loss and waste for the sake of people and the planet. Controlling and minimizing food loss and waste is vital on this planet since the number of people impacted by hunger has escalated since 2014. Statistical data shows that between harvest and retail, approximately 14% of food produced is lost globally, while an estimated 17% of total world food output is squandered (11 percent in households, 5 percent in the food service, and 2 percent in retail). Secondly, food waste and loss account for 38% of total energy use in the global food system. Thus, food loss and waste are increasing the burden on this planet significantly. For instance, all resources used in producing the crop, processing it, and bringing it to the consumer table go to waste when food is wasted. Moreover, food wastage and loss happen at the consumers’ end and at every stage of the supply chain. For instance, post-harvest and processing losses account for 40% of losses in developing nations, whereas retail and consumer losses account for over 40% of losses in developed countries.
Although a handful of articles talk about a digital platform for the CE process (Geng et al., 2019), hardly any studies have considered research on the food supply chain. The scarcity of research literature in this direction indicates a gap between theory and practice in digital technology and CE in the food supply chain. Future researchers who will extend the knowledge base needed to answer many research questions.
So, what is the need to dig deeper in this area? If we look at the benefits, we can see that innovative digital platforms can bring all supply chain players in the food supply chain together, and CE process will be much easier. We often refer these to as "by-demand" or "on-demand" business models, in which services are given by one company to numerous purchasers. All supply chain players can view the available resources in the supply chain and in which region so that exchange/ transactions can be done smoothly without affecting the end customers' delivery requirements. Not only that, the total costs can be optimized if all supply chain actors collaborate and use such digital platforms. Nonetheless, another important question arises: What technological capabilities are required to develop digital platforms to enable CE in the food supply chain? What is the role of government, industry associations, and leading firms in the same industry in shaping technological capabilities to set up digital platforms/sharing models that can ultimately overcome the current challenges?
List of topic areas
- Digital technological capability building in CE;
- Building dynamic capabilities for digital transformation in CE;
- Digital mindset crafting;
- Barriers and drivers of digital technological capability in CE;
- Effect of cultural differences in the interplay between Industry 4.0 and CE models;
- Digital technologies, such as mobile, artificial intelligence, cloud, blockchain, and the Internet of things (IoT) technologies, to enable major CE improvements;
- Digitalization of CE business models;
- Develop a digital platform/sharing platform model in CE based food supply chain;
- The emergence and adoption of digital CE strategies in the sharing economy for better connecting consumers;
- Challenges for creating sustainable value with CE-based sharing economy business models;
- Designing frameworks for the platform economy;
- Digital transformation in the platform economy to enhance CE performance;
- Exploiting new ecosystem capabilities;
- Operating industrial parks that use the principles of CE to link the food supply chains of companies;
- Sharing knowledge in the digital platforms;
- Digital CE solutions monitoring platform;
- Digital joint venture;
- Technology and innovation management in CE;
- Digital CE innovation lab.
University of Johannesburg, South Africa,
Lincoln C. Wood,
University of Otago, New Zealand,
Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Business School, U.S.A,
Aston Business School, Aston University, U.K,
Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available by clicking the button below.
Author guidelines must be strictly followed.
Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to “Please select the issue you are submitting to”.
Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.
Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 23 August 2023
Closing date for manuscripts submission: 27 February 2024
Email for submission queries: [email protected]
Bag, S. and Rahman, M.S. (2021), “The role of capabilities in shaping sustainable supply chain flexibility and enhancing circular economy-target performance: an empirical study”, Supply Chain Management, advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1108/SCM-05-2021-0246
Bag, S., Wood, L. C., Telukdarie, A. and Venkatesh, V. G. (2021), “Application of Industry 4.0 tools to empower circular economy and achieving sustainability in supply chain operations”, Production Planning & Control, advance online publication.
Cavicchi, C. and Vagnoni, E. (2022), “The role of performance measurement in assessing the contribution of circular economy to the sustainability of a wine value chain”, British Food Journal, Vol. 124 No. 5, pp. 1551-1568.
Çetin, S., De Wolf, C. and Bocken, N. (2021), “Circular digital built environment: An emerging framework”, Sustainability, Vol. 13 No. 11, article no. 6348.
Charnley, F., Knecht, F., Muenkel, H., Pletosu, D., Rickard, V., Sambonet, C. and Zhang, C. (2022), “Can Digital Technologies Increase Consumer Acceptance of Circular Business Models? The Case of Second Hand Fashion”, Sustainability, Vol. 14 No. 8, article no. 4589.
Ciccullo, F., Cagliano, R., Bartezzaghi, G. and Perego, A. (2021), “Implementing the circular economy paradigm in the agri-food supply chain: The role of food waste prevention technologies”, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Vol. 164, article no. 105114.
Del Vecchio, P., Passiante, G., Barberio, G. and Innella, C. (2021), “Digital innovation ecosystems for circular economy: The case of ICESP, the Italian circular economy stakeholder platform”, International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management, Vol. 18 No. 1, article no. 2050053.
Geng, Y., Sarkis, J. and Bleischwitz, R. (2019), “How to globalize the circular economy”, Retrieved on 16.6.2022 from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00017-z.
Kazancoglu, Y., Ozkan-Ozen, Y. D., Sagnak, M., Kazancoglu, I., & Dora, M. (2021), “Framework for a sustainable supply chain to overcome risks in transition to a circular economy through Industry 4.0.”, Production Planning & Control, advance online publication.
Mehmood, A., Ahmed, S., Viza, E., Bogush, A. and Ayyub, R. M. (2021), “Drivers and barriers towards circular economy in agri‐food supply chain: A review”, Business Strategy & Development, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 465-481.
Pizzi, S., Leopizzi, R. and Caputo, A. (2021), “The enablers in the relationship between entrepreneurial ecosystems and the circular economy: The case of circularity.com”, Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 26-43.
Rajala, R., Hakanen, E., Mattila, J., Seppälä, T. and Westerlund, M. (2018), “How do intelligent goods shape closed-loop systems?”, California Management Review, Vol. 60 No. 3, pp. 20-44.
Rana, R.L., Tricase, C. and De Cesare, L. (2021), “Blockchain technology for a sustainable agri-food supply chain”, British Food Journal, Vol. 123 No. 11, pp. 3471-3485.
Sharma, Y.K., Mangla, S.K., Patil, P.P. and Liu, S. (2019), “When challenges impede the process: For circular economy-driven sustainability practices in food supply chain”, Management Decision, Vol. 57 No. 4, pp. 995-1017.
Soldatos, J., Kefalakis, N., Despotopoulou, A. M., Bodin, U., Musumeci, A., Scandura, A. and Colledani, M. (2021), “A digital platform for cross-sector collaborative value networks in the circular economy”, Procedia Manufacturing, Vol. 54, pp. 64-69.
Warner, K. S. and Wäger, M. (2019), “Building dynamic capabilities for digital transformation: An ongoing process of strategic renewal”, Long Range Planning, Vol. 52 No. 3, pp. 326-349.