literature on closed-loop flows has tended to focus on technical products (Islam and Huda,
2018;Mishra et al., 2018), while the perishable nature of food products and the need to comply
with food safety standards pose different requirements for the duration and conditions of
storage, processing and transport (Liljestrand, 2017).
With regard to food waste in particular, SC actors tend to focus on internal waste
reduction and local optimisation, which leads to sub-optimal results for the entire SC (Mena
et al., 2014). The main reason for SF in the manufacturing and retail sector is that the internal
sell-by date has been reached (Garrone et al., 2014b), although this does not necessarily mean
that the food has reached its “end-of-life”.
Given that strategies and structures have been developed to optimise forward food SCs
(based on a linear thinking), the food SC produces waste and SF as by-products that cannot be
dealt with in a sustainable manner (Parfitt et al., 2010). However, food that risks becoming
waste can be made available to consumers through new SC structures that can provide
efficient and effective SF distribution. According to the literature, structures tend to change,
particularly when a new actor enters the network or an actor disappears and takes its
connections with it (Halinen et al., 1999).
At the sametime, actor constellationsthat facilitate closingthe loop tend to vary depending
on the recoveryoption (repair, reuse, remanufacturing, etc.) (Gobbi,2011;L€
udeke-Freund et al.,
2019). Thismeans that an effective actorconstellation for the repairrecovery option would not
immediatelyfit food recovery for humanconsumption, and actorconstellations that are ableto
provide effective SF distribution have emerged only recently. Furthermore, even though
recovery options are dependent to some degree on cooperation with other actors (such as
customers, business actors, other actorsin society), details about the roles of thesekey actors
tend to be missing in earlier literature (L€
udeke-Freund et al., 2019). Also, establishing a
cooperation thatcan enable recovery requires interactions among several actors.
Against this background, a SC approach is useful for studying the SF phenomenon. The
purpose of this paper is to analyse the different SC structures that have emerged to make SF
available for consumers. The purpose is operationalised into two research questions: Which
actor constellations and interactions have emerged in SF distribution? What are the roles of
new actors in SF distribution?
This study makes four main contributions. First, it contributes to an enhanced
understanding of food-reuse options by simplifying complex actor constellations into triadic,
tetradic and dyadic microstructures andthus adds to the closed-loop SC literature. Second, it
provides insightsinto the centralisation and decentralisation aspects of products with a high
recoveryvalue and adds to the reverseSC design literature. Third,it adds to the sustainableSC
and CE literatureby identifying the rolesof more rarely studied actorsin for-profit and not-for-
profit SCs in developing more circular SCs. Fourth, it evaluates the environmental impact of
new SC structures and thus contributes to the relatedfood waste literature.
The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. Section 2 provides an overview of the
relevant literature and presents the research framework. This is followed in Section 3 with an
overview of the applied research method. Section 4 describes and analyses the findings, while
Section 5 discusses the results in relation to the existing literature. Finally, Section 6
concludes the paper and suggests managerial implications, offers recommendations for
future research and outlines the study’s limitations.
2. Theoretical background
This section begins with an overview of the causes of food waste in the SC and presents the
main recovery solutions. After this, the SC structure concept is discussed in relation to reuse.
Subsequently, the conceptual framework is presented together with social network theory,
thereby providing a lens for explaining actor roles and interactions.