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    ‘We the People: Supporting Food SMEs towards a Circular Food Economy’

    Burrowes-Cromwell, Toni (2022) ‘We the People: Supporting Food SMEs towards a Circular Food Economy’. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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    Abstract

    This single Case Study locates SME (small and medium-size enterprise) hospitality and food services (HaFS) within a complex food waste system. It examines collaborative support for business change from linear resource wastage (‘take, use, dump), towards a circular food economy (CfE)- where ‘designing out’ food waste may reap savings. The objective is to support SME uptake of waste aversion practices so that they may thrive. The qualitative research centers on a London-based project promoting food waste valorization and healthy nutrition, in 15 boroughs. That project’s outreach for broad-based, collective impact included HaFS that are SMEs. Cross-sector liaison was the research focus for this Case Study which utilizes a hybrid philosophy and meta-framework, based on Critical Realism and Systemic Thinking. Some reference to Interpretivism highlights stewardship values for transforming individual behaviour. The Study also uses a multi-method design, borrowing soft systems from Management Science and Operational Research. Its blended approach includes: participant observation, mapping and rich picture techniques, semi-structured interviews and focus groups. The main research questions align concepts such as: circular economy, cross-sector collaboration and food waste management- with HaFS that are SMEs. A framework method and Leximancer software supported coding and qualitative thematic analysis. Primary findings include interesting categories of analytical, NGO and policy literature. Although conversations flagged up pivotal roles for our health and education sectors, the food SME element still seems peripheral in this transition to regenerative business. A ‘people vibe’ is enabling some HaFS’ kitchen waste action and food redistribution and, academia is a potential contributor to this information resource flow among stakeholders. The Study’s unique onto-epistemological framework enhances philosophical and theoretical knowledge about promoting SME resource stewardship. It spans Systemic Thinking (overt connections and acute complexities) and Critical Realism (deep mechanisms and institutional power differentials, impacting change). As an interpretive lens, the framework’s contribution to praxis was tested by shadowing the London TRiFOCAL project. This research could inform a business policy shift from traditional supply chain thinking, towards active UK food citizenship.

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