Source: adapted from Böge, S. (1995) "The well-travelled yogurt pot:
lessons for new freight transport policies and regional production",
World Transport Policy & Practice, Vol. 1, pp. 7-11.
The Food-Mile: Yogurt Supply Chain, Germany
One dimension of green logistics concerns food supply chains and
the growing awareness that supplying food products to consumers
concerns large distances. The term food-miles has been brought
forward to try to capture the distances involved in all the stages
and processes of food production, from the farm up to the consumer. It is assumed
that more food-miles are related to less environmentally efficient
A classic example concerns a yogurt supply chain in south
Germany. Although a simple product, a yogurt pot involves a wide
variety of components ranging from milk, sugar and jam (product) to
labels, jars and boxes (packaging). The above map shows direct,
first order, relations between the manufacturer with its suppliers
and customers (second tier relations, such as for the supplier of a
supplier, are not depicted). It may indicate that the supply chain is
environmentally damaging because of the distances involved and that
these distance should be shorted to achieve greener logistics. However, statements in the line
that supply chains should be more locally and regionally focused can
be misleading. The following nuances should be considered:
Consequently, the example of the yogurt pot as an environmentally
damaging supply chain is mostly inaccurate and misleading. Striving to
shorten supply chains may appear at first glance to be
imminently desirable but must be considered within a wider context,
namely the nature of the inputs and the location factors of the
- Input weight factor (material index).
Location theory has for long underlined that a location is often
influenced by the weighting of the industrial inputs. The higher
the material index of an input the more important it is as a
location factor. A yogurt pot can be considered a bulky product
with more than 85% of its weight (milk and sugar) and 90% of the
package (glass jars) being sourced
regionally. Other inputs play a small, if not negligible role.
From an input weight factor perspective, the concerned food
supply chain appears much more optimal.
- Different location factors. Suppliers
within a supply chain may have different location factors which
may appear to be far from optimal in relation to their
customers, but can be optimal in relation to their suppliers.
Changing their location to optimize one supply chain (or simply
one segment) could lead
at the aggregate level to diseconomies for other supply chains.
- Economies of scale and regional specialization.
The extension of food miles is in part reflective of emerging
regional specializations in food production, many in developing
countries where agribusiness is a growing source of employment
and income. The benefits derived in terms of lower input costs
and economies of scale may out weight higher transport costs.