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Power Imbalance in UK Agri-Food Supply Channels: Learning to Live with the Supermarkets?

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This study investigates the issue of power in the context of UK agri-food industry vertical business-to-business relationships, where the majority of control lies in the hands of large multiple retailers. Predominant in agri-food channels is the reduced supplier sourcing model; featured is the widespread application of Category Management (CM) and network supply co-ordination, through a new breed of super middlemen. The received view from the Relationship Marketing (RM) literature with its emphasis on trust, dyadic symmetry and mutuality is questioned. It is contended, alternatively that other types of relationships, for example, those based on selfishness are equally relevant; and that power imbalanced business relationships are just as important to the understanding of business exchange. Further, power should be a central consideration when concerned with business relationships and imbalance in power is no specific barrier to parties entering into collaborative relationships or to their success. This article contends that acceptance of power-imbalance is a key first-step to successful relationship building in agri-food channels and although collaborative chain activity is endorsed, suppliers are advised that this still means operating within conditions of imbalanced power and reward.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2005

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