Policy brief examines the role of SMEs in a more resilient food system

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Collaboration with larger institutions could untap the potential for small and medium sized enterprises to contribute to greater UK food security, according to the latest policy and practice brief from the GFS FSR Programme.


The briefing note How can SMEs enhance resilience of the UK food system? examines how specific interactions between SMEs and larger players in the food system could result in greater food system resilience.

The research was undertaken by Maddy Diment under the guidance of Tom Curtis, a founding partner of 3Keel, a firm of sustainability advisors, and Prof Mark Reed of the GFS FSR Resilient Dairy Landscapes project.

“It’s recognised that SMEs have an important practical role in strategic parts of the food system, and a potential wider role in providing additional food system resilience,” said Tom Curtis. “Evaluation of the potential of this resilience role is often clouded by arguments around the relative value of SMEs as compared to ‘big business’.

“As a team, we wanted to go beyond the polemic and focus on the potential synergies between SMEs and larger businesses and institutions.”

The policy briefing looks at SMEs’ ability to innovate, their ability to create neutral spaces for creative collaboration, and their potential to hedge risk in the food system.

Opportunities for collaboration

Despite the existence of institutional and structural barriers, three notable opportunities emerged where larger institutions could play a role in promoting food system resilience through engagement with SMEs.

  • Universities are ideally situated to boost SME innovation and collaboration across the food system. larger food businesses and government
  • Large businesses have capacity to support SMEs within their supply chains, and in turn, promote resilience
  • Government can support SMEs by making infrastructure investments and restructuring research grants

Dr John Ingram, Coordination Team Leader on the GFS FSR Programme, said: “SMEs constitute around 97% of enterprises in the UK food system; they also make a substantial social and cultural contribution to our society. This brief highlights how collaboration between smaller organisations and major players could bring about positive change in the food system.

“Understanding the potential for SMEs to enhance resilience of the food system – and the the barriers that must be overcome for this to happen – is a step forwards in creating a food system where a greater number of food system actors play a role in enhancing food security.






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