Abstract: Agricultural cooperative (or co-ops) is a unique form of supply network that is made up of producers and sometimes downstream supply chain members. One fundamental principle underlying such co-ops is that they are a user-owned, user-controlled and user-benefit business. This principle distinguishes co-ops from corporations in funding, ownership and consequently decision processes. Studies and industry reports on co-ops point out that one important challenge many co-ops face is how to compete and thrive in the dominant industrial food system characterized by consolidation of production, distribution and retail along the supply chains. Many co-ops eventually convert to public corporations at the sacrifice of certain member groups and the founding principles. However, we have little understanding as to how agricultural co-ops make decisions when facing these challenges associated with the opportunity and pressure for growth. In this study, we intend to answer two questions –
1. Considering agricultural co-op as a supply network, how does it function when members lack relational and structural embeddedness?
2. How do co-op’s governance, founding values and competing interests influence the debates and decision process under growth pressure?
To answer these questions, we carried out our field research at Country Natural Beef, a beef production-marketing co-op, for a period of five years between 2007 and 2012. We directly observed a sequence of four critical decisions over this period. In this manuscript, we delineate the evolution of the co-op from the peak of its business to gradual stagnation. Such changes resulted from decisions made based on competing value logics and clashes among different interests within the co-op as members address market and operations challenges. We found such dynamic change ultimately led to changes in shift in the coo-op’s governance, mission and supply chain practices.
Bio: Zhaohui Wu is an associate professor in the College of Business at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. He is a recipient of The Leverhulme Trust of Visiting Professorship at The University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. He currently is conducting research in the areas of supply networks, sustainability strategy in natural resources management, and supply chain management in agricultural cooperatives. Prior to his work in academe, Dr. Wu worked as a buyer for a US-based aerospace company, and as a project manager for a Chinese international trade company, focusing on power and utility equipment. Among his most recent publications are articles in the Journal of Supply Chain Management, Journal of Operations Management and Journal of Macromarketing and a book on sustainable food supply chain management.