Network evolution and the growth of artisanal firms: a tale of two regional cheesemakers

Blundel, Richard (2010). Network evolution and the growth of artisanal firms: a tale of two regional cheesemakers. Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 14(1) pp. 1–30.



This paper explores the growth trajectories of two specialist food producers and the business networks in which they are embedded. The context is provided by a brief overview of today’s complex and dynamic food industry supply chain, seen from the perspective of a small, craft-based firm. The sector chosen for this study, English regional cheese making, is characterised as displaying a long-standing tension between industrial and artisanal modes of production. The conceptual framework combines insights from the network and resource-capability literatures. This blend of ideas prompts several questions relating to the transfer and appropriation of artisanal knowledge in a network setting. The empirical section provides some illustrations of the processes in action. It charts the development of two regional farm-based cheese makers from their inception in the early 1950s up to the year 2000. The analysis identifies distinct ‘episodes’ characterised by significant structural and processual changes at both firm and inter-firm levels. A series of network maps is used to highlight the distinct pattern of linkages formed by each firm. The maps are supported by a commentary that draws on the managers’ own perceptions of the changes, including the reasons why they occurred, and the consequences for their businesses. The discussion section points to underlying structures and mechanisms that appear significant in explaining the surface-level events. The paper concludes by outlining the practical implications for firms in similar situations and assessing the extent to which the findings may be generalised to other business networks.

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