Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to show that a proactive sourcing strategy can be just as important as a proactive marketing strategy in achieving sustainable competitive advantage. Design/methodology/approach - The paper reports on action research carried out in the UK beef industry, with a focus on the food service supply chain. The methodology is inductive and qualitative, using a multi-case, multi-site approach. The supply chains presented in the case were analysed from farm gate to consumer, interviewing multiple participants at each stage of the supply chain. Findings - This study offers some partial support for configuration-based approaches. However, the case also raises some doubts about the validity of configuration thinking, as it is not the complexity or ambiguity of the relationships that is key in the case, but the fact that brand ownership and contracts create property rights for their owner that create a relatively permanent power resource for Pioneer, the case study company, in its market struggle with its customers and competitors. This interpretation supports the power and property rights views of strategic management rather than the configuration approach. Research limitations/implications - The research is based upon in-depth knowledge of the UK beef and red meat industry. It would be beneficial if further in-depth studies could be undertaken in other agri-food supply chains to further validate the findings. Practical implications - Although the focus of this article has been upon choosing appropriate sourcing strategies, the case study has also illustrated the importance for business managers of linking this sourcing strategy with a firm's marketing, and more specifically its branding strategy. Originality/value - The paper analyses the key differences in demand, supply and power and leverage characteristics in the food service beef supply chain to highlight the need for government agencies, think-tanks and industry participants to have a more robust understanding of industries before advocating the adoption of any one approach for all UK agri-food supply chains. This paper should be of value to researchers in this area and to managers responsible for strategy formation in UK agri-food supply chains.
- supply chain management
- United Kingdom