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

Laura Michelini*, Cecilia Grieco, Francesca Ciulli, Alessio Di Leo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1437-1462
JournalBritish Food Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Food sharing
  • Sharing economy
  • Social impact


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