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Food Supply Chain

Food consumption is a natural necessity of all people. In order to satisfy this necessity, people go to the markets, shops, restaurants and other places to buy it. They do not think about how many stages food products have to pass before being eaten. In order to understand this process, it is possible to consider a food supply chain, which consists of some distinct functioning elements. The final consumers are satisfied with the quality of the food they buy if all food chain elements perform properly their functions and are aimed at healthy eating.

Dani (2015) defines a food supply chain as “the series of processes, operations and entities that help to take the food from its raw material state to our plates” (p. 2). This definition already makes it clear that a person does not purchase food as a raw material, but as a product ready for eating or for being cooked. There exist different types of food supply chains, namely local, conserved, manufactured, and commodity chains (Gail Smith, 2008). The most sustainable of them is the local food supply chain, because it “support ‘mixed’ and organic farming and reduce emissions and externalities created by long-distance transport and high ‘food miles’” (Gail Smith, 2008, p. 84). It takes much time for other types of chain to transport the goods, and the number of processing steps is greater for them (Gail Smith, 2008). Regardless of which type a food supply chain belongs to, it has the same actors or links, which help the chain reach the final consumer.

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The general model of a food supply chain can be represented as follows: producer  – processor – distributor – retailer – consumer (”Lesson 4”, n. d.). “Food moves from farmer to consumer in a dominolike fashion” (”Lesson 4”, n. d., p. 1). The money paid for this food moves from a consumer to a farmer in a reversed direction, following the same model. The food supply chain offered by Dani (2015) consists of the following links: producers – processors – retailers and distributors – hospitality sector – consumers. It is a little more exact that the first variant, but does not break the essence of the process. As it was mentioned above, the most important thing in a food supply chain is that each of its links has its own tasks, the performance of which helps the chain function as a single process.

Each of the elements of a food supply chain is equally important. The first of them – a producer (a farmer) – has the following purposes and functions: produces raw food (does animal breading, grows crops, fruits and vegetables), maintains the quality of this product, solves environmental issues that may affect them, supplies this food to a processor. A producer also performs some organizational functions such as searching for the best processors and signing contracts with them (Dani, 2015). The burden of a modern farmer has recently increased as the world population grows together with its demands. The scholars state that feeding the constantly growing mankind has become one of the greatest challenges. More and more people do not want to consume just any food, but rather prefer healthy dieting, which complicates the functioning of modern food supply chains (Dani, 2015). Therefore, the value of farmers constantly grows as they have to increase the level of their production all the time and accurately choose the raw materials, which they need.

A processor is the second element in a food supply chain. His main roles and aims are “harvesting, butching, processing, value add processing, manufacturing, marketing and sales” (“The food value chain”, 2013, p. 3). There are many types of food-processing companies. Some of them are engaged in meat slaughtering, some produce conserved food or manufacture confectionaries and pastries. A food processor “…also helps to reduce waste and increase food availability by increasing the shelf life of raw food products that cannot be immediately consumed” (Dani, 2015, p. 4). The problem that this link is facing is the lack of energy and water for manufacturing. In order to solve this issue and reduce the impact of negative environmental factors, food processors have to regularly implement various technological innovations. A processor is vitally important for a consumer as this is the link that responds to direct consumer demands (Dani, 2015).  

Distributors and retailers represent the next chain link.  Their main role is distributing the food products among retailing companies and displaying these products to consumers correspondingly (“The food value chain”, 2013). The general functions that the distributors perform include: buying food products in bulk and then dividing them into smaller portions, establishing the relationships with retailers, stipulating the prices, and giving credits to the retailers. This link is significant as distributors are engaged in solving all legal issues (in case of a global chain) and are responsible for stocks and warehouses. The functions of retailers include dealing with numerous stock-keeping enterprises to offer customers the best choice of goods, advertising new food products, and establishing reasonable prices. Retailers are a very important link in a chain as the level of competence in retailing sphere is high. It is a two-level form of competence, when processors compete for receiving a place on a shelf in a retailer’s shop, and retailing companies compete among themselves. This phenomenon especially concerns the developing countries, where small retailer shops are gradually transforming into big supermarket chains (Dani, 2015). Thus, distributors and retailers are interconnected with the aim of satisfying the consumers’ demand.

As Dani (2015) states, hospitality sector is an important link between a processor and a consumer. It is represented by restaurants, hotels and takeaway places, which buy the food products from a processor and get them ready to meet the expectations of the consumers, who are the last element of the chain. The only function of this link is to purchase food products and to provide enough cash to support all other elements (Dani, 2015). An interesting research was performed by Kearney (2009), who analyzed the level of consumption of different types of food (cereals, meat, milk products and others) in different countries and determined the factors which influenced that consumer’s choice. He concluded that “consumer satisfaction depends less on what a person has in an absolute sense than on socially formed aspirations and expectations” (Kearney, 2009, p. 2804). Kearney reached at the conclusion that aging of the populations, globalization and urbanization significantly influence the food choice of the consumers and promotes either healthy dieting or obesity. The author asserts that the importance of final consumers is that they are capable of providing stability of a food chain supply, if a producer will advocate for a healthy agricultural system to prevent obesity and chronic diseases. 

In conclusion, it is important to state that food supply chains are an integral element of normal existence and development of the humanity. If some nation suffers from starvation or obesity, this means that some elements of the food supply chain do not function normally. The problems of aging, globalization and income gaps affect the consumers’ food choices, but at the same time these issues force producers to pay more attention to the quality of their raw materials with the purpose of satisfying people’s demands.  It is possible to improve this situation, if each link of the mentioned chain investigates which changes it has to implement to give people a chance to eat healthy. 

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