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How to avoid the tragedy of alternative food networks (AFNs)? The impact of social capital and transparency on AFN performance

Paola De Bernardi (Department of Management, University of Turin, Turin, Italy)
Alberto Bertello (Department of Management, University of Turin, Turin, Italy)
Francesco Venuti (Department of Financial Reporting and Audit (FRA), ESCP Business School, Turin, Italy)
Enrico Foscolo (Faculty of Economics and Management, Free University of Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 8 April 2020

Issue publication date: 11 June 2020



Alternative food networks (AFNs) have recently emerged in the food landscape as new ways of food production, distribution and consumption which are alternatives to the traditional food system. Drawing on the tragedy of the commons, this paper aims to test the role played by social capital and transparency in reducing customer's lethargy and thus enhancing AFN performance in terms of frequency and quantity of purchases made by customers.


An ordered probit model was used to analyse data from a strong database of 2,115 Italian AFN customers. Given the novelty of the topic, the quantitative survey was anticipated by a preliminary qualitative study based on in-depth interviews, focus groups and participant observation.


Customers play an active role in AFN communities, co-creating value together with the other actors of the network. The two independent variables tested in this model, social capital and transparency, positively and significantly affect customers' quantity and frequency of purchases within AFNs, reducing the occurrence of the tragedy of commons.


To the authors' knowledge, this study represents one of the first attempts to measure, through a quantitative method, the effect of performance drivers (i.e. social capital and transparency) on AFN performance. Theoretical, managerial and policy implications will be thoroughly presented and discussed along the paper.



De Bernardi, P., Bertello, A., Venuti, F. and Foscolo, E. (2020), "How to avoid the tragedy of alternative food networks (AFNs)? The impact of social capital and transparency on AFN performance", British Food Journal, Vol. 122 No. 7, pp. 2171-2186.



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