Waste Not, Want Not: Managing Perishables in Small and Medium Retail Enterprises

Jelena V. Vlajic, Mariana Bogdanova, Radomir Mijailovic

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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Purpose of this paper:
Recent literature indicates that around one third of perishable products finish as waste (Mena et al., 2014): 60% of this waste can be classified as avoidable (EC, 2010) suggesting logistics and operational inefficiencies along the supply chain. In developed countries perishable products are predominantly wasted in wholesale and retail (Gustavsson et al., 2011) due to customer demand uncertainty the errors and delays in the supply chain (Fernie and Sparks, 2014). While research on logistics of large retail supply chains is well documented, research on retail small and medium enterprises’ (SMEs) capabilities to prevent and manage waste of perishable products is in its infancy (c.f. Ellegaard, 2008) and needs further exploration. In our study, we investigate the retail logistics practice of small food retailers, the factors that contribute to perishable products waste and the barriers and opportunities of SMEs in retail logistics to preserve product quality and participate in reverse logistics flows.

As research on waste of perishable products for SMEs is scattered, we focus on identifying key variables that contribute to the creation of avoidable waste. Secondly we identify patterns of waste creation at the retail level and its possibilities for value added recovery. We use explorative case studies (Eisenhardt, 1989) and compare four SMEs and one large retailer that operate in a developed market. To get insights into specificities of SMEs that affect retail logistics practice, we select two types of food retailers: specialised (e.g. greengrocers and bakers) and general (e.g. convenience store that sells perishable products as a part of the assortment)

Our preliminary findings indicate that there is a difference between large retailers and SME retailers in factors that contribute to the waste creation, as well as opportunities for value added recovery of products. While more factors appear to affect waste creation and management at large retailers, a small number of specific factors appears to affect SMEs. Similarly, large retailers utilise a range of practices to reduce risks of product perishability and short shelf life, manage demand, and manage reverse logistics practices. Retail SMEs on the other hand have limited options to address waste creation and value added recovery. However, our findings show that specialist SMEs could successfully minimize waste and even create possibilities for value added recovery of perishable products. Data indicates that business orientation of the SME, the buyersupplier relationship, and an extent of adoption of lean principles in retail coupled with SME resources, product specific regulations and support from local authorities for waste management or partnerships with other organizations determine extent of successful preservation of a product quality and value added recovery.

Our contribution to the SCM academic literature is threefold: first, we identify major factors that contribute to the generation waste of perishable products in retail environment; second, we identify possibilities for value added recovery for perishable products and third, we present opportunities and challenges for SME retailers to manage or participate in activities of value added recovery. Our findings contribute to theory by filling a gap in the literature that considers product quality preservation and value added recovery in the context of retail logistics and SMEs.

Research limitations/implications:
Our findings are limited to insights from five case studies of retail companies that operate within a developed market. To improve on generalisability, we intend to increase the number of cases and include data obtained from the suppliers and organizations involved in reverse logistics flows (e.g. local authorities, charities, etc.).

Practical implications:
With this paper, we contribute to the improvement of retail logistics and operations in SMEs which constitute over 99% of business activities in UK (Rhodes, 2015). Our findings will help retail managers and owners to better understand the possibilities for value added recovery, investigate a range of logistics and retail strategies suitable for the specificities of SME environment and, ultimately, improve their profitability and sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Proceedings of 21st International Symposium on Logistics (ISL 2016)
EditorsK.S. Pawar, K.M. Tsai
Place of PublicationNottingham
PublisherCentre for Concurrent Enterprise, Nottingham University Business School
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)9780853583172
Publication statusPublished - 03 Jul 2016
EventInternational Symposium on Logistics: Sustainable Transport and Supply Chain Innovation - Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Province of China
Duration: 03 Jul 201606 Jul 2016
Conference number: 21


ConferenceInternational Symposium on Logistics
Abbreviated titleISL
Country/TerritoryTaiwan, Province of China
Internet address


  • value added recovery
  • retail logistics
  • product quality preservation,
  • Reuse
  • Recycling
  • Remanufacturing
  • Disposal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)


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