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External sources for innovation in food SMEs

Virginie Marie Lefebvre (Department of Agricultural Economics, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Hans De Steur (Department of Agricultural Economics, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Xavier Gellynck (Department of Agricultural Economics, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 5 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine the role that different external sources of knowledge play in product, process, market and organizational innovations in food SMEs.


This study is based on a web-survey of 214 food European SMEs. Binary logistic regression models were utilized for data analysis.


The findings support the recent studies that suggest that the introduction of different types of innovation is associated with different types of source of knowledge. They indicate that collaboration with customers matter for product innovations in food SMEs while collaboration with competitors is more important for organizational innovations in this type of firm. In addition, collaboration with science base actors does not appear relevant to innovation in food SMEs, supporting previous works that highlight the predominant role of market base actors in innovation in this type of firm.

Research limitations/implications

In line with previous research on innovation in SMEs, the generalization of the findings to all European food SMEs may be limited due to the low response rate and the difficulties in collecting innovation data from micro-firms. Data used in the study were gathered from single informants also which may have resulted in self-report bias. Besides, cross-sectional data were employed so no causal inferences could be drawn.


Although the food industry is a major sector for the European economy, little attention has been given to the sources of knowledge that may be used for innovation in this industry. This paper offers interesting insights into the importance of external sources for innovation. Moreover, past research dealing with collaboration for innovation usually focus on product and process innovations. The paper adds to these by incorporating market and organizational innovations.



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 245301 NetGrow – “Enhancing the innovativeness of food SMEs through the management of strategic network behaviour and network learning performance”. The information in this document reflects only the authors’ views and the European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

The authors acknowledge the contribution of the Institut Polytechnique LaSalle Beauvais (France), University of Debrecen (Hungary), Teagasc, Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown (Ireland), University of Bologna (Italy), and Skåne Food Innovation Network (Sweden) to the research design and data collection.


Lefebvre, V.M., De Steur, H. and Gellynck, X. (2015), "External sources for innovation in food SMEs", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 1, pp. 412-430.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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