Testing the theory of constraints in UK local food supply chains

Graeme Heron, David Oglethorpe

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    39 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose – The purpose of the research is to identify the observable operational and supply chain barriers and constraints that occur in local food supply chains, especially with smaller producers, as they seek to increase market penetration across a wider geographic area. Design/methodology/approach – The research adopts a multiple case study approach using mixed methods of data collection where case study companies are interviewed and complete a questionnaire. This process allows us to create a supply chain map and create a narrative which records the burdens and impacts occurring in local food supply chains and smaller producers looking beyond local markets. This evidence is then set against the theory of constraints (TOC) to provide a theoretical underpinning and to examine consistency of the findings. Findings – Seven broad categories of constraint type are observed: constraints due to the nature of the market; due to scale and the nature of products; constraints related to employment and skills; institutional constraints; constraints in supply chain relationships; certification, policy and regulatory constraints; and constraints around personal beliefs and anthropomorphism. Each is described as to its origin, its limitation to business and where possible, how it might be remedied. The constraints point to some counter-intuitive results as far as common perceptions of local food are concerned but suggestions for improvement are made through collaborative producer efforts, alternative institutional intervention, supply chain re-engineering and logistics innovation. Practical implications – Practical suggestions are made to improve the inclusiveness of distribution networks, to better utilise regional food groups (RFGs), to develop opportunities to set up autonomous supply chain centres, or to broaden the function of farmer co-operatives. The paper also provides an alternative model of the TOC specifically adapted for local food producers, the focus of which plays to their strengths and focuses on building competencies across, up and down the supply chain. Originality/value – The adaptation of the TOC provides an advancement of knowledge in the area of food supply chain analysis and is done in a way that is more practical in use. The paper also provides the opportunity to take a similar approach to examining other niche supply opportunities in the sector, which may be dependent on other geographically defined barriers, such as seasonal or ethnic products.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1346-1367
    JournalInternational Journal of Operations & Production Management
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


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