|Home > A value chain and cluster perspective on competitiveness of European fresh vegetable production – Case studies from Germany, Italy, and Spain|
In the present study we combine cluster theory with a value chain approach, with the aim of discovering elements of the European fresh vegetable business that could enable local producers to gain competitive advantages in a global market. European producers of fresh vegetables are under pressure to improve their performance and increase their competitiveness. Competitive advantage can be gained through innovation and by using unique resources stemming from cooperation between producers and complementary actors in local clusters. However, locally clustered producers do not sell to open markets but need access to value chains governed by lead firms, the large European retail chains, which set the rules and conditions of participation. The study presents first results from a multiple case-study analysis involving three different European regions in Germany, Italy and Spain specialized in fresh vegetable production. In-depth interviews with practitioners allowed us to confirm some main trends in business organization in the European fresh vegetable industry, but also to point out some interesting peculiarities of this industry. Local fresh vegetable producers become competitive due to their integration both in local production and wider marketing networks, where unique knowledge is created and interchanged by personal relationships. Further concentration on the local level is claimed to countervail power imbalances that usually favor buyers. The need for leading supermarket chains to build up direct relationships with key suppliers disturbs the functioning of existing relationship patterns in the local cluster. Creation of exclusive relationships with retail chains is pursued by entrepreneurs of innovative producing farms who treat their special knowledge and capacities as competitive advantages in the sharp competition in world markets and do not share it with other cluster actors.