Introduction Food anddrink in every capacity play a large part in Ireland’s economy, from the farminputs to the producing to the processing to the retailing. The various relatedindustries are grouped under two sectors by policy makers, market researchersand economists: agri-food and drink and artisan food and drink. The distinctionis necessary because of literal differences in scale: area of land required,expected output, expected annual turnover, number of employees, size ofdistribution network; and more ephemeral aspects that are socially constructedand relate to conceptions of quality, ethics and ultimately the economic andsocial value of the end-product.
In the agri-food sector, the industrializationof agriculture and the concentration of processors and retailers in Irelandsince accession into the European Economic Community in 1973 has standardized theconsistency of the product range, led to vertical integration of certain supplychains, enabled efficient and profitable food and drink exports in raw andprocessed forms to 180 countries globally, and supported specialistion while atthe same time driving the consolidation of land at the expense of the number offarmers, facilitating extended supply chains that dislocate place of productionfrom place of consumption, and promoting monocultures that, while economicallyefficient, are proven to be detrimental to the health and biodiversity of theimmediate natural environment. The artisansector includes businesses that make below a certain annual turnover or whom explicitlyidentify with labels of distinction such as ‘organic’, ‘speciality’ or’farmhouse’, both of which presumes a small-scale enterprise. This is accordingto Bord Bia, the Irish state’s food and drink marketing board. The sector whendefined by leading market researcher Mintel seems to encompass more businesstypes than meet the strict definition of the term laid out by the Food SafetyAuthority of Ireland in 2015 (Mintel 2012, 2015, 2017). Rather, the size of thebusiness as determined by annual turnover seems to be qualification enough for inclusion.Bord Bia organises a yearly small food market for companies with an annualturnover of 3.5million or less, 1 million higher than the limit established formicro-enterprises by the EU Small Business Act 2012. Althoughdistinct in name and scale, both sectors interpenetrate each other; the artisansector often selling through the agri-food retail and distribution chains andthe agri-food sector benefitting from positive imagery of Irish producegenerated by the artisan sector.
This paper wishes to ask, are the sectorsdistinct in ideology? The currentframework for production in the Irish agri-food sector is on a trajectory forfurther centralization, specialization and consolidation under the policydirective Food Wise 2025 led by the Department of Agriculture, Food and theMarine. The social, economic and environmental harms embedded within the industrialfood system will grow too, although change-making projects are being proposedinternally such as the environmentally-concerned Bord Bia Origin Green label. Is the Artisansector a preparatory school for future players in the agri-food sector, a blueprintfor an alternative food system or a designation for a multiplicity of foodbusinesses constantly and individually navigating the boundaries between smalland big, face-to-face and faceless? This paperis a step towards the addressing of this question. In order to build uponprevious knowledge, a variable that is shared between the two sectors isselected for study: the concept of business growth. A term that is contested inthe literature, it is proposed that how the business conceives of and operationalizesbusiness growth locates the business somewhere on an alternative-conventionalcontinuum (Sage 2003). A constructionist perspective is taken, with bothartisan and growth seen as being socially constructed (Weick 1979).
In order to demarcate the extremesof this continuum, the definition of growth generalizable among leading actorswithin the agri-food sector is taken from a review of white papers and greyliterature. It is proposed that the socially constructed morality associatedwith the concept of growth is linked with the socially constructed valueassociated with the concept of artisan. Insert Action Whatfollows is a review of the literature concerning labels of difference such asartisan, traditional, farmhouse and speciality, the alternative food networks,initiatives and systems and the concept of business growth. Literature Review Alternative to “glocal” In reactionto the negative externalities of dominant food systems, food initiatives,businesses and networks have emerged in the Global North that were initiallyreferred to as ‘alternative’ by a wide-ranging body of literature. Alterity wasexpressed in terms of distance from farm to fork (Wallgren 2006), food identityand relation to place (Sonnino and Marsden 2006; Freidmann and McNair, 2008),food security and sustainable food systems (Kirwan 2004; , food justice (Hassanein2003; Delind and Bingen 2008; Hughes 2017) and “a quality turn” (Goodman etal., 2003).
The alternative can be political (Goodman et al, 2011; Sharpet al. 2015), embodied in the rejection of onesystem through the embracing of another. The ‘alternative’ system is typifiedby direct contact between producers and consumers, a connection to place andthe preference of small scale production (Goodman et al, 2011; Sonnino 2013),all aspects that the industrial agri-food system lacks. However, critique ofthe binary conceptualisations of alternative vs. conventional has emerged (Sonninoand Marsden 2005; Feagan, 2007; Rosin and Campbell 2009) since the livedexperience blurs the boundary lines (Erikson 2013). Blundel highlights therisky but often unavoidable interaction between specialist food businesses andlarge retailers, in which the specialist food producer must contend with theexposure to “buyer power” (Blundel2002), the failure to do so possiblyresulting in co-option as can been seen from the work of Guthman (2004), Rigbyand Bown (2007) and Tovey(2009) in relation to the absorption ofthe organic food movement and the definition of local into the mainstream. Harris(2008) explores the potential system-altering effect local food networks canhave beyond their apparent localism. An emerging trend, instead of studyingcontrasts, is the study of the local (or alternative) within the global (orconventional), the ways in which local or alternative practices or values existand possibly affect change from within the dominant system (Selfa and Qazi,2005; Wilson and Whitehead 2012; O’Neill, 2014; Forney& Häberli 2016).
Labels of difference Sagedescribes the producers in the Irish Artisan sector (referring to them asspecialist producers) as occupying an “ambiguous position with regard to theiralignment within alternative food networks”, listing certain sales andlabelling practices as areas of ambiguity in terms of ideological position(Sage, 2003:53-54). Perhaps part of this ambiguitycomes from the term artisan itself and the many meanings provided for it by therelevant literature. ‘Artisan’ is a distinction for a type of classin medieval Europe, higher than a laborer but lower than a merchant,distinguishable from the lower classes by codes of honor upheld and enforced byworkers guilds (Farr, 2000:4). During the industrial revolution, the honor andattention to skill was prone to being romanticized and a subject for nostalgia,fueling a critique of over-mechanisation (Farr, 2000:3). The same industrialrevolution led to the rapid development of new technologies that made theskills of the artisan unessential, situating them on the margins of theeconomy, in opposition to modernity almost to their detriment (Herzfeld, 2003).After a period of being the provision of historians alone, ‘artisan’ hasre-entered the general lexicon of the global neoliberal society as an attemptto capture food production and provisioning methods that resembles aspects ofthe craftsmanship of the past. Michael and Commins (1999:362) associatedartisan with “…craft, speciality or niche…” when describing small-scale foodenterprises operating in Ireland.
For some Irish consumers it indicates luxuryand the realm of occasional treats, for others it is synonymous withtraditional, local, and the human story behind the product (Bord Bia 2015; BordBia 2017). In Europecertain definitions add a dimension of time to the term, suggesting thatartisan production involves knowledge “…passed down over generations…” that is”…now in danger of being lost” (School of Artisan Food, 2017). The Food SafetyAuthority of Ireland goes one step further, defining a traditional method asone that has “…proven usage on the domestic market for a period that allowstransmission between generations; this period is to be at least 30 years;”(FSAI 2012). Less strict, Eldrimner, the national resource center for food craftsmanshipor “mathanverk” in Sweden, places value in the person and their knowledge”being part of the whole production chain”. Tradition here is seen as astarting point for further development, not a rigid process (Eldrimner, 2017).
The same sentiment appears in studies of the New Nordic Cuisine, based inDenmark, who’s goal was to “make tradition the basis for creativity in thekitchen” (Jonsson, 2012:65). A similar’revival’ of ‘traditional’ skills can be witnessed in North America. The mostrecent financial crisis of 2008 is said to have exacerbated the trend (Jakob,2013; Kapp, 2017) towards what is described as “an artisan-basedeconomy, which values highly crafted specialized goods and blends oldmanufacturing techniques with new digital technologies” (Kapp 2017:1). In thisdescription, artisan connotes more a sense of heritage as opposed to a specificprocess (Russell, 2003), a heritage, in the case of the United States, notnecessarily of specific food production methods but of “entrepreneurialsensibility” (Paxson 2016). Certain researchers arguethat individuals undertaking to produce food according to ‘artisan’,’traditional’ or ‘speciality’ sensibilities are in fact entrepreneurs,innovative by the very fact of their interest in ‘traditional’ productiontechniques that may have been discarded from mainstream usage as out-dated orperhaps never used at all, as is the case goats cheese in Sweden (Bonow andRytkonen, 2012) and ‘fine cheese’ in Quebec (Boulianne, 2012).
The artisan asentrepreneur idea leads the discussion towards a review of entrepreneurship andgrowth literature. Conceptions of growthregarding small businesses Growth as a socially constructed concept – an evolvingmetaphor (Journal et al., 2010).
Theory base is Penrose 1959 comprehensive theory of the growth ofthe firm must explain several qualitatively different kinds of growth and musttake into account not only the sequence of changes created by a firm’s ownactivities but also the effect of changes that are external to the firm and liebeyond its control. –internal development increase in amount. The study of growth correspondswith the renewed scholarly attention on micro, small and medium-sizedenterprises after the clear indication of the importance of such firms in the generaleconomy: 99.
8% non-financial business enterprises in the EU were SMEs in 2014 (Eurostat,2017). Small business creation through entrepreneurship has been seen as themeans of rebooting the economy after the 2008 financial crash, “providing a powerfuldriver of economic growth and job creation” (Department of Finance, 2012:3). Theentrepreneur starts small, supported by the small business act, an act inspiredby “our potential to build on the growth and innovation of SMEs.
” (SBA, 2008:).The concept of the entrepreneur was first proposed by Schumpeter in 1934 assomeone who performs new combinations of materials that they have notnecessarily created (Munier, 2013). However, the SME sector is populated bydiverse business types ranging from family firms to social enterprises and theSBA has been criticised for being too homogenous in its assessments of needs(EESC, 2015). While the entrepreneur isassociated with growth (Davidsson et al., 2006), the high-growth start-up is infact an abnormality in the case of micro and small businesses. A gap in theliterature exists around businesses born to stay small (Kolveried ,1992), thatremain in the embryonic stage (Van de Ven and Poole, 1995)