The vegan trend and the microfoundations of institutional change: A commentary on food producers’ sustainable innovation journeys in Europe

Elsevier, Trends in Food Science and Technology, Volume 107, January 2021
Saari U.A., Herstatt C., Tiwari R., Dedehayir O., Makinen S.J.

Background: Today's meat and dairy industry has a vast environmental footprint. To reach the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) of ending hunger globally (SDG #2) and achieving sustainable consumption and production (SDG #12), this food production system needs to change. Recent years have seen the rise in popularity of the vegan or plant-based diet among consumers, which can go some way to reducing the environmental burden. This trend has motivated pioneering food producers to develop innovative vegan food products for niche markets, thus driving the sustainability transition of the food sector. Scope and approach: This commentary tracks how three pioneering food companies have responded to the vegan trend in Europe. From the analysis of the sustainable innovation journeys of these innovative food producers, we propose a framework that presents a multi-level perspective on the socio-technical transition of the food production and consumption system. Key findings and conclusions: The findings show how food producers, incumbents, and new entrants progress through an early phase of planning a direction and establishing a goal, followed by pivoting and experimenting in response to changes in the business environment. This innovation journey concludes as the company moves from experimentation and learning activities onto innovation implementation. The paper postulates a model that describes how regime level changes arise from the microfoundations of the food production and consumption system, as the innovation journeys of companies drive institutional change towards sustainability. The paper identifies future research avenues to explore the sustainable development of vegan food production in more depth.