US-Based Food and Agricultural Value Chains and Their Relevance to Healthy Diets

A processed food revolution has taken place in agricultural products, transforming the dietary options available to consumers. Understanding the value chain, or how food gets “from farm to fork,”, is key to improving nutrition, food safety and food security.

A Global Value Chain (GVC) analysis examines the structure of food production and consumption systems and identifies leverage points that can bring change at a structural level. This article applies the GVC framework to two food value chains in the United States—chicken and tomatoes—to gain insights into the contemporary dynamics of food supply chains and their implications for healthy diets.

Key Findings:

  • Though production and consumption of chicken and tomatoes has increased dramatically, this is mostly in less nutritious, highly processed forms.
  • The industrialization of food production has resulted in very high firm-concentration ratios in the chicken and tomato value chains, marginalizing small farmers and growers and making those firms that survive highly dependent on large processors, supermarkets and fast food chains.
  • Due to their size, brand power and influence in diverse chain segments, lead firms have leverage for healthy diets as drivers of change in the value chain.

The GVC framework identifies striking patterns of industrial consolidation and the trade-offs this entails for smaller firms in these chains. This analysis helps one understand which companies could be targeted by external actors, such as health, labor or other social advocates and interest groups, to make changes in their products and practices to generate healthier food options for consumers.