Key Factors Influencing Economic Relationships and Communication in Finnish Food Chains

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Title: Key Factors Influencing Economic Relationships and Communication in Finnish Food Chains
Author: Lähdesmäki, Merja; Viitaharju, Leena; Suvanto, Hannele; Valkosalo, Pauli; Kurki, Sami; Rantala, Sanna-Helena; Hartmann, Monika; Fischer, Christian; Reynolds, Nikolai; Bavorova, Miroslava
Date: 2009
Belongs to series: Reports 49
ISBN: 978-952-10-5413-6 (pdf)
ISSN: 1796-0630 (pdf)
Abstract: The aim of this report is to discuss the role of the relationship type and communication in two Finnish food chains, namely the pig meat-to-sausage (pig meat chain) and the cereal-to-rye bread (rye chain) chains. Furthermore, the objective is to examine those factors influencing the choice of a relationship type and the sustainability of a business relationship. Altogether 1808 questionnaires were sent to producers, processors and retailers operating in these two chains of which 224 usable questionnaires were returned (the response rate being 12.4%). The great majority of the respondents (98.7%) were small businesses employing less than 50 people. Almost 70 per cent of the respondents were farmers. In both chains, formal contracts were stated to be the most important relationship type used with business partners. Although for many businesses written contracts are a common business practice, the essential role of the contracts was the security they provide regarding the demand/supply and quality issues. Relative to the choice of the relationship types, the main difference between the two chains emerged especially with the prevalence of spot markets and financial participation arrangements. The usage of spot markets was significantly more common in the rye chain when compared to the pig meat chain, while, on the other hand, financial participation arrangements were much more common among the businesses in the pig meat chain than in the rye chain. Furthermore, the analysis showed that most of the businesses in the pig meat chain claimed not to be free to choose the relationship type they use. Especially membership in a co-operative and practices of a business partner were mentioned as the reasons limiting this freedom of choice. The main business relations in both chains were described as having a long-term orientation and being based on formal written contracts. Typical for the main business relationships was also that they are not based on the existence of the key persons only; the relationship would remain even if the key people left the business. The quality of these relationships was satisfactory in both chains and across all the stakeholder groups, though the downstream processors and the retailers had a slightly more positive view on their main business partners than the farmers and the upstream processors. The businesses operating in the pig meat chain seemed also to be more dependent on their main business relations when compared to the businesses in the rye chain. Although the communication means were rather similar in both chains (the phone being the most important), there was some variation between the chains concerning the communication frequency necessary to maintain the relationship with the main business partner. In short, the businesses in the pig meat chain seemed to appreciate more frequent communication with their main business partners when compared to the businesses in the rye chain. Personal meetings with the main business partners were quite rare in both chains. All the respondent groups were, however, fairly satisfied with the communication frequency and information quality between them and the main business partner. The business cultures could be argued to be rather hegemonic among the businesses both in the pig meat and rye chains. Avoidance of uncertainty, appreciation of long-term orientation and independence were considered important factors in the business cultures. Furthermore, trust, commitment and satisfaction in business partners were thought to be essential elements of business operations in all the respondent groups. In order to investigate which factors have an effect on the choice of a relationship type, several hypotheses were tested by using binary and multinomial logit analyses. According to these analyses it could be argued that avoidance of uncertainty and risk has a certain effect on the relationship type chosen, i.e. the willingness to avoid uncertainty increases the probability to choose stable relationships, like repeated market transactions and formal written contracts, but not necessary those, which require high financial commitment (like financial participation arrangements). The probability of engaging in financial participation arrangements seemed to increase with long-term orientation. The hypotheses concerning the sustainability of the economic relations were tested by using structural equation model (SEM). In the model, five variables were found to have a positive and statistically significant impact on the sustainable economic relationship construct. Ordered relative to their importance, those factors are: (i) communication quality, (ii) personal bonds, (iii) equal power distribution, (iv) local embeddedness and (v) competition.

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