What does it take to go global? The role of quality alignment and complexity in designing international food supply chains

Mary Luz Olivares Tenorio, Stefano Pascucci*, Ruud Verkerk, Matthijs Dekker, M.A.J.S. van Boekel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: In this paper, a conceptual and methodological framework based on empirical evidence derived from the case of the Colombian Cape gooseberry (CG) supply chain is presented. Using this case study, this paper aims to contribute to the extant literature on the internationalization of food supply chains by explicitly considering the alignment of quality attributes and supply chain complexity as key elements to understand the process. Design/methodology/approach: This research has been designed to be qualitative, inductive and exploratory, thus involving multiple data gathering methods and tools. More specifically, during the first stage of the empirical analysis, this study has mapped and analysed preferences and perceptions of product quality at both the consumer and supply chain levels. Then, this paper has analysed the degree of alignment and complexity in the supply chain and finally, this study has derived scenarios for the internationalization of the supply chain. Findings: The results indicate tensions between supply chain actors related to quality attribute alignment and complexity, which have the potentials to impact the internationalization scenarios of the CG supply chain. Particularly the findings highlight how alignment and complexity of sourcing and product quality attributes can affect supply chain design strategies in different internationalization pathways of a niche food commodity. Research limitations/implications: The findings have implications in terms of supply chain design perspectives. In fact, while an approach, which would consider only a transactional or governance perspective would have tackled the problems of misalignment – for example, between farmers and wholesalers or wholesalers and international traders/retailers – it would have ignored the problem of alignment caused at the retailing and consumption stage. In the attempt to internationalize the CG supply chain, farmers, processors and traders are misaligned in relation to the preferences of the targeted final consumers, Dutch/Western European consumers in the case. Practical implications: Given the misalignment issues, this paper identifies a step by step approach as the most suitable pathway to design an internationalized supply chain because it allows the CG commodity supply chain to develop the potential market of credence quality-attribute by supporting the health-promoting compounds of the fruit. In this way, the CG supply chain could also progressively scale up and work on solving its misalignment issues by building a coordination structure of the chain, with quality control and logistics likely led by large retailers. Social implications: The study indicates that a process of internalization related to a scenario of a “globalized commodity” can only emerge through processes of coordination and integration at the production level, likely led by forms of producers (farmers) associations or a network of producers and traders, leading to strong marketing activities and scale up in terms of volumes. This has profound social implications and calls for rethinking how this study designs the internationalization of niche commodity supply chains. Originality/value: Through the application of a mixed methodology approach, in which conceptual, qualitative and quantitative methods have been combined, this paper has been able to identify alternative scenarios to the internationalization and the scale-up of a niche food commodity supply chain, with implications for its design and governance. More specifically in the conceptual model, the different scenarios have been related to the risk of misalignment. The model also identifies alternative pathways of internationalization which may or may not arise according to the way complexity unfolds. In the approach, this study has unpacked complexity by looking into two key dimensions: transactional complexity and quality-attribute complexity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-480
JournalSupply Chain Management
Issue number4
Early online date1 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Alignment
  • Design
  • Governance
  • Internationalization
  • Product attributes


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