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Uncovering the impact of food sharing platform business models: a theory of change approach

Laura Michelini (Department of Law, Economics, Politics and Modern Languages, Libera Universita Maria Santissima Assunta, Rome, Italy)
Cecilia Grieco (Department of Human Studies, Libera Universita Maria Santissima Assunta, Rome, Italy)
Francesca Ciulli (Department of Management Research, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands)
Alessio Di Leo (Department of Communication and Social Research, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 3 February 2020

Issue publication date: 28 April 2020




The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential impact of food sharing platform business models and to identify the limits and barriers in measuring the impact. Using the “theory of change” (ToC) approach, this paper develops a theoretical framework that captures the activities, outputs and outcomes of food sharing platforms and links them to indicators.


The study employs a two-step methodology, which includes a website content analysis followed by two focus groups. The purpose of the website content analysis was to list a set of activities that are performed by food sharing platforms. The focus groups allow to design the ToC and to discuss limits and barriers in measuring the impact of food sharing platforms.


The study provides an overview of the main areas of impact of food sharing platforms (environmental, social, economic and political) and identifies the related outcomes. Furthermore, the paper highlights the need for the platform to manage the multifaceted tensions of food waste recovery vs prevention and the benefits of food recovery to helping hungry people vs the actual need to eradicate poverty by addressing social injustices and inequalities.

Research limitations/implications

The selected sample involved in the focus group comprised a wide but not comprehensive set of stakeholders. Indeed, the obtained information cannot be generalized. In addition, the ToC approach requires a certain discretion of the facilitator and introduces the potential for partiality in conducting the analysis.

Practical implications

The framework helps to unbundle the complex challenge of measuring the impact of food sharing platforms and it provides managers, practitioners and policy makers with a practical tool to direct their activities toward a better impact.


From a theoretical perspective the study advances the literature on (food) sharing platforms and contributes to research on the sustainability in the food sector. It indicates the impacts a novel actor relying on digital technology can have in the food sector and points out the tensions between food recovery and prevention and the impact on poverty. The proposed framework could be a useful tool to support practitioners in understanding the trade-offs among the outcomes they aim to attain, and to identify the proper strategies to manage them.



The authors would like to acknowledge COST Action CA16121 “FromSharing to Caring: Examining Socio-Technical Aspects of the CollaborativeEconomy”, which supported the workshop “Impact Assessment in the Sharing Economy” whose findings have been invaluable for this paper. The authors would like to thank Gabriela Avram for leading the COSTAction CA16121 with effort and care, Gaia Mosconi and Christian Frankel for coordinating the WG3 and supporting our ideas and initiatives, and the anonymous reviewers. The authors also thank entrepreneurs and managers for their contributions through discussions.


Michelini, L., Grieco, C., Ciulli, F. and Di Leo, A. (2020), "Uncovering the impact of food sharing platform business models: a theory of change approach", British Food Journal, Vol. 122 No. 5, pp. 1437-1462.



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