An impact assessment of potentially radical niche developments in the Dutch dairy sector – MSc-thesis Anne Verschoor

October 11 2016, Anne Verschoor successfully defended her MSc-thesis ‘An impact assessment of potentially radical niche developments in the Dutch dairy sector‘. She thus completed the Specialization Gastronomy of the Master Food Technology of Wageningen University. Applying a Social Science perspective in her thesis research was extra challenging but she managed very well to do so. Below an abstract of the thesis.

The current research aims to develop a method to assess the impact of potentially radical niche developments by analysing this specifically for the case of the Dutch dairy sector. With knowledge on the potential impact of niche developments on the sociotechnical system of the Dutch dairy sector, the stakeholders of both the dominant regime and of the niche developments might be better able to work towards a more sustainable dairy sector. The current research is organised in three different parts. First, the dominant regime of the Dutch dairy sector, its state and its issues are analysed with the use of path dependency theories. Path dependency theories can show the potential lock-in of the dominant regime and show the need of pressure from outside the regime level to change the system to a more sustainable form. Second, the focus of the research is on two specific niche developments: Muufri and Remeker. Muufri and Remeker are selected for the research because both niche developments address the sustainability issues of the dominant regime and both niche developments are potentially radical. Muufri presents a different method to produce milk by genetically modified yeast and Remeker presents alternative methods and organisation of dairy processing by producing specialty cheese products. Both Muufri and Remeker can be considered “full” niches according to the theory on mechanisms of niche development. However, Muufri is still developing its products, while Remeker has been producing cheese for years already. Thirdly, the potential impacts of Muufri and Remeker on the dominant regime of the dairy sector are assessed for the coming five to fifteen years. The impact assessments are performed using a focus group and the concepts on niche-regime compatibility and sociotechnical translations. The focus group considers the impact of Muufri to mainly be the start of a debate on the origins of our food before Muufri will have a more substantial impact. The potential impact of Remeker is considered by the focus group to be a situation in which Remeker and a multitude of other similar niche developments producing speciality dairy products would form the regime. This situation would take longer than five to fifteen years to develop; although it could be that this situation has started to develop for several years already. Finally, the impacts of potentially radical niche developments addressing sustainability issues in general are discussed. These specific niche developments show the dominant regime and society that it is possible to organise, in this case, the dairy sector differently. The existence of the niche developments contributes to the pressure on the dominant regime next to the pressure of the landscape level to address the sustainability issues of the dairy sector in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the current research shows that the analytical framework used did not succeed in presenting suitable methods to assess the impact of potentially radical niche developments. The current research is exploratory, but succeeds in showing why it could be interesting to perform further research into the impacts of potentially radical niche developments.

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