A strong and durable competitive advantage in the wine industry can be searched for in exploiting the “terroir” and the biodiversity of the vine grape, which can result in unique and recognizable organoleptic scents. Those sensorial elements bind inseparably the taste of a wine to a unique grape-growing area, thus becoming a source of distinctness almost unbeatable, to the extent that it is supported by appropriate communication and brand management policies.
The research of biodiversity is a process of knowledge development, both the existing and the new one, about the soil and the grape, from the technical production point of view, and about the sensorial needs of the target market, from a commercial point of view.
This process is carried out by identifying, attracting, and reconfiguring the knowledge about the grape biodiversity: it is an information flow management, both internal and external the firm boundaries, together with the relevant supply network’s actors, such as biological analysis laboratories, research institutes, and grape growers. The dynamic capabilities can support this process; on the other hand, the information flow with external actors is managed through relationships.
For this reasons, the purpose of the paper is to analyze how the winery’s dynamic capabilities, needed to exploit the biodiversity, are influenced by the dyadic relationship with the grape grower, in particular by some specific features regarding the organizational culture and the relational approach.
The dynamic capabilities allow the firm to recognize the changing environment and, placing between business and environment, enable firm resources to dynamically adapt to changing environmental characteristics (Teece et al. 1997). According to the competence-based view (Teece et al. 1997), the innovative behavior of some companies aimed at finding distinctive features from their competitors, which can generate a differentiation strategy, arises from the ability to introduce continuously product and process innovations. In dynamic and high-intensity competition contexts, the dynamic behavior can be explained if the business holds skills with equally dynamic nature.
Organizations, and new governance mechanisms are taking place more and more in the field of innovation and valorisation of the agri-food sector (Cembalo 2015); the agri-food chain performances are affected by the way the stakeholders are involved in the chains and by the way of coordinating the relationships among the actors (Carbone 2017).
The relational approach (Håkansson and Ford 2002) analyzes the dynamic capabilities of the actors in the wine supply network involved in seeking for biodiversity, by means of studying the concepts of strategic orientation, relational approach, and inter-firm learning within a network system of relationships (Silvestri et al. 2016; Contò et al. 2016). Some authors highlighted the relevant role of a relational perspective on the management of wine tourism systems, underlining the necessity for the development of boards, networks, constellations, and flows (Festa et al. 2015; Georgiou and Vrontis 2013).
In this network, several actors are involved, such as the wineries and the grape growers, which allow the firm to attract and to share the resources needed to survive (Fiocca 2014). The approach based on the analysis of the relationships between firms is relatively recent in the studies of the wine industry. However, the agricultural economist is trying to expand the study on the supply chain to the analysis of relationships between the companies in this sector, borrowing methods from different economic sectors (Cafaggi and Iamiceli 2010). The paper focuses on the abovementioned features, as enablers of the dynamic capabilities in buyer–supplier relationships, which can influence the knowledge transfer among businesses within a dyadic buyer–supplier relationship.
Then, originality of this paper can be found in the new field of investigating in the wine sector: far from being exhaustive, it can shed some light on this topic, since there are few studies regarding the role of the dyadic buyer–supplier relationship.
The remainder of this paper is as follows: after the definition of the theoretical framework and hypothesis, materials and methods are presented in detail by defining the investigated sector, the data collection, and the measures validation. Then, the results are shown and discussed; the conclusions section gives insight by drawing implications for researchers and practitioners.
Theoretical background and hypotheses
Management studies have several theoretical approaches that are not in conflict with each other but tend to converge and complete: this is certainly the case for the convergence between the dynamic capabilities and the network theories.
The first one derives from the studies of Itami and Roehl (1987) which identify in the invisible asset mobilization, one of the ways for achieving the competitive advantage; on the other hand, most of the resources, which build the abovementioned invisible asset, are not those the firm already has but those which lie in the context in which they work.
In this perspective, the ability to attract the external resources, to put them into their intangible assets, generates a distinctive high-level competence, often superior to any other distinctive competency in the company (Barney 1991). The intangible resources can be distinguished in knowledge and trust resources: the former support the firm development by continuously generating new knowledge, acting on people’s involvement, on the firm culture and identity; the second, generate and consolidate the company’s position on the market and produce economically appreciable consequences such as customer loyalty and customer retention.
From this assumption, it arises the firm needs to identify the external relevant resources, to attract and to reconfigure them, within the operating structure, into new distinctive knowledge.
Therefore, the relationships represent the way of connecting with external actors that have significant resources for the firm and the attraction vector of such resources within the firm. Thus, the firm’s ability to achieve and to keep the competitive advantage is strongly related to its position in the business network and to the capabilities of effective relationship management with the network’s actors. For these reasons, the paper bases the analysis on different, even if complementary, theoretical approaches.
Competences are meant as a system based on knowledge (Grant 1996) made up of expertise and technical systems, the management system and the system of values in the role of creation and supervision of such knowledge (Teece et al. 1997; Leonard Barton 1992). Firm intangible resources and capabilities that dynamically enable organizations to adapt their resources to the evolution of the environment are an element of diversity among firms (Prahalad and Hamel 1990). The creation of value comes up from the effective use of dynamic capabilities, which depend fundamentally by three processes: learning, integration, and reconfiguration of resources. The skills have to be able to coordinate the business resources in order to finalize them in a coherent way for the competitive advantage achievement. They can be meant as integrated subsets of resources that allow the firm to realize distinctive activities. The resources, however, are firm-specific and show a more static nature: it is often appropriate to integrate them with external technological, financial, and marketing assets (Fuentes-Lombardo et al. 2014). The capability in integrating the external and internal assets has a dynamic nature since the market’s evolution implies a continuous change of resources and ways of their using (Verona 2014).
The dynamic capabilities are based on very high levels of sensitivity, experience, and willingness to engage profoundly on the company’s business. They allow resources to be not depleted in terms of value and ability to get a competitive advantage, not so much because of their inadequacy in absolute terms, as for the fact that environmental changes can reduce their effectiveness and hence make them no longer fit to support the firm in the relationship with the environment (sector / market) which in the meantime changes.
Supply chains with resources in disarray can also be a constraint on the achievement of food security and so affecting the availability and affordability of food (Revoredo-Giha and Renwick 2016). The dynamic capabilities should lead to the resource reconfiguration: this process assures the business management logic changing for a learning path that will allow wider evolution. The interaction with the actors in the belonging network affects and increases the dynamic capabilities, thus stimulating the management to break the interpretive schemes and the ritualization in decision-making and implementing process of a strategy able to face effectively the market complexity (Barile 2009). This distinctive skill system has an intrinsic form of endogenous inertia that can turn into equally distinctive rigidity (Leonard Barton 1992; Verona 2014). The generation of competitive advantage in dynamic contexts brings the skills to exercise constantly learning ability: the dynamic behavior of some wine firms is explicable with their ability to adopt a managerial logic of seeking for distinctive features concerning the technology and the market.
The research-starting assumption is that the interaction between the winery and the grape grower encloses a wide range of distinctive dynamic capabilities of both the players involved, from which can arise the biodiversity, the quality, and the most recognizable and inimitable elements of wine.
The identification of these dynamic capabilities and the understanding of the elements they are affected by can be useful in the decision-making process underlying the activities of research, development, and innovation aimed at biodiversity.
The enhancement of grape’s biodiversity, interpreted according to the relational perspective, can be realized in the last phase of value creation process, by selling a certified high-quality wine: the grape’s biodiversity gives added value to the consumer in sensorial and hedonistic terms, thus generating competitive advantage for the wineries of a specific area (Pinder 2011). The creating value based on biodiversity is a phased process in which knowledge circulates and is filtered and transferred by different actors of the network (winery, grape grower, research laboratories, etc.) through the exchange of resources and competencies. The starting point of this process lies in the relationship management between the upstream supply chain firms (wineries, grape growers, research institutes, other suppliers). The wineries’ marketing strategy chances to achieve the consumer trust are enclosed in the ability of developing relationships in order to create the conditions to access to intangible resources of the other players in the network, to combine them harmoniously with their own, to occupy the most convenient location within the network, then to acquire a competitive advantage, which is defensible in the new economic environments due to globalization of markets (Contò et al. 2015; Stoddard and Clopton 2015; Tudisca et al. 2013).
Studies on the topic (Fiore et al., 2017; Vrontis et al. 2011; Vrontis and Papasolomou 2007) demonstrate that critical points in wineries are cultivation varieties, production methods, and know-how-related factors. A clear strategic path should forecast the product building, marketing strategies, focused targeting, differentiation, perception management-based branding, and country-of-origin image development. Resources are improved with the dynamic capabilities and, in turn, are the basis of the distinctive skills that are developed and activated with the relationships within the network (Fiocca 2014). From the relational point of view, any market structure is the result of a continuous flow of interaction and mutual adaptation between the actors which generates a complex network made up of actors and interdependencies between these resources and their activities. Some authors (Cantù et al. 2013) consider the economic relationships between the actors in the network not only in terms of competition, but also in terms of “business networking” in which companies compete in changing the structure of the network through a continuous interactive process.
The relationships within the networks have been developed to create a market differential (a concept that goes beyond the concepts of competitive advantage and key success factors), through the use of the resources of a business, that affects its location into a network.
Every business relationship has both elements of competition and cooperation. The competitive advantage can result from the cooperation with suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders, and cooperation can be a means of strengthening the position of an enterprise network, also gaining a higher position than its competitors (Cantù et al. 2013).
So we can suppose that the quality of wineries’ offer can depend on the transfer abilities (each other buyer–supplier) at the research and development stage and on the problem solving abilities (Håkansson and Ford 2002) of suppliers in transforming those requirements into solution proposals.
The problem solving abilities is a central element for the wineries, that is, the interaction with grape growers able to identify and fully understand their needs, as well as to insert and translate those needs into their offerings quickly. The needs referred to in the relationship between the winery and nursery are primarily the phenotypic characteristics of the selected clones, the phonological elements, and the qualitative characters (yield of juice, sugar content, anthocyanin, polyphenols, then aroma particularity). The other needs are related to the production and logistic problems.
Regarding transfer abilities, wineries refer to the grape grower ability to convey new information for their customers. This ability is closely linked with sale managers’ in-depth knowledge of the winery production process enhanced by frequent visits and by joint research and development.
What, in the dyadic buyer–supplier relationship between the winery and the grape grower, affects the dynamic capabilities of wineries engaged in seeking biodiversity?
From the analysis of theoretical framework about the relational approach comes the hypothesis we intend to verify:
Hp1. The relational approach adopted by the winery toward the grape grower affects positively the problem solving and transfer abilities
According to eminent scholars, the strategic orientation is concerned with the decisions that businesses make to achieve superior performance: so, the strategic orientation defines the broad outlines for the firm’s strategy (Slater et al. 2006). The strategy should allow the firm to connect and align with its target market. The strategic orientation is then interpretable as the way the firm is connected to the competitive environment and oriented to the market.
There are several conceptualizations (Celuch et al. 2002) of market orientation in the literature, among which two main perspectives emerge: market orientation as culture (Narver and Slater 1990) and as behavior (Kohli and Jaworski 1990).
Narver and Slater (1990) define market orientation as the organizational culture that most effectively and efficiently creates the necessary behaviors for the creation of superior value for buyers and, thus, continuous superior performance for the business. They suggest that market orientation is expressed by three behavioral components: customer orientation, competitor orientation, and inter-functional coordination.
From the behavioral point of view, Kohli and Jaworski (1990) define market orientation as the organization of wide information acquisition, dissemination, and responsiveness to market intelligence.
From the cultural point of view (Khin et al. 2012; Conto et al. 2014), the concept of customer orientation highlights the importance of customer for the firms’ performance in many aspects including new product development. Narver and Slater (1990) define customer orientation as the firm’s sufficient understanding of its target buyers in order to be able to create superior value for them continuously.
According to several studies emerging by the literature (e.g., Hurley and Hult 1998; Paladino 2007; Theoharakis and Hooley 2008), there is a positive relationship between customer orientation and innovation and the latter has to be combined with tradition (Vrontis et al. 2016; Viassone et al. 2016): customer orientation affects positively innovation because a better understanding of customer needs by means of customer orientation allows the firms to offer new and superior products that satisfy customers.
The concept of competitor orientation, according to Narver and Slater (1990) is linked to the capacity of understanding the short-term strengths and weaknesses and long-term capabilities and strategies of key potential competitors. Some authors (Rossi et al. 2012) by means of a survey administrated to 180 Italian companies demonstrated it emerges the need to implement strategies towards achieving sustainable competitive advantage. Parallel to customer orientation, it emerges by the literature a significant relationship between competitor orientation and innovativeness (Hurley and Hult 1998; Augusto and Coelho 2009; Paladino 2007).
Within the theoretical framework on the concept of strategic orientation, we believe that
Hp2. A homogeneous organisational culture in strategic orientation (Narver and Slater 1990), meant as the common language and shared usual behaviour that facilitate the interaction (Camuffo and Grandinetti 2011), can positively affect the inter-firm learning, which represents one of the fundamental processes for the dynamic capabilities generation.
The inter-firm learning concept is referred, in the academic literature, to the access and employ of critical information or capabilities from a business partner through collaboration (Kale et al. 2000). Some scholars analyzed the role of the strategic alliances on the inter-firm learning (Inkpen 2000; Kale et al. 2000; Simonin 2004). Some others focused on the role of the network relationships on knowledge sharing and transferring (Spekman et al. 2002; Dyer and Hatch 2004, 2006; Hult et al. 2004; Wagner and Buko 2005) and on the supplier’s standpoint in getting new knowledge from the customer (Modi and Mabert 2007; Håkansson and Ford 2002). We did not find studies in the academic literature on the influence of the organizational culture on the inter-firm learning.
There is a wide and intense academic debate on the organizational culture topic as it is considered crucial both for operational and strategic activities. In strategic terms, it is considered as drivers of competitive advantage (Xiaoming and Junchen 2012) since it affects the endogenous organizational development (Denison and Spreitzer 1991), the effectiveness of the operational structure (Gregory et al. 2009; Zheng et al. 2010), and the financial performance (Barney 1991).
The organizational culture can also become a driver of competitive advantage even in inter-organizational cooperation. (Noorderhaven et al. 2002; Wang and Li 2007; Xiao and Tsui 2007).
An organizational culture that promotes and facilitates the cooperation is important to establish inter-organizational relationships long-term: the cultural elements are relevant in the process of cooperation and co-creation of value (Kanter 1994; Laskowska-Rutkowska 2009). No previous research on the organizational culture influence on problem solving and transfer abilities within a buyer–supplier business relationship have been found. According to the Competing Values Framework, there are different models of organizational culture based on two independent dimensions: the structure and strategic focus (Gregory et al. 2009). The differences between the models can be identified by these two dimensions and identified according to the following cultural characteristics: strategy, flexibility/technology, organization, and management style (Morgan 2007). Depending on the preeminence of cultural characteristics, organizations show different organizational culture models. Basing on this theoretical background, we expect the organizational culture is positively associated with the inter-firm learning, thus also with problem solving and transfer abilities. Hence:
Hp3. The organizational culture is positively correlated with the Inter-Firm learning
Hp4. The organizational culture is positively correlated with the problem solving abilities
Hp5. The organizational culture is positively correlated with the Transfer Abilities
The paper analyzes, among the different elements that could affect the customer–supplier relationship, the strategic orientation as it represents a mental approach of the management and adopts both in formulating decisions and in managing interactions with the relevant actors.
A fundamental communication element for an effective knowledge exchange through the interaction is represented by a common meta-language that facilitates this information flow.
For this reason, it seems helpful to analyze how the elements of this common meta-language, such as the strategic orientation and the organizational culture, influences the dynamic features of the interaction, such as the inter-firm learning, the problem solving abilities, and the transfer abilities, by which the information exchange and knowledge configuration are implemented to create value.