Project rationale

Contexts: The biotechnology and food and beverage sectors

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This project is using a case study approach to study firms in two sectors - food & beverage and biotechnology.

Food and beverage is a labour intensive 'backbone' sector of the New Zealand's economy with large revenues but a low growth rate of around 5% over the previous decade. It is unlikely that major future gains in productivity can be made in this sector without increasing the value (rather than volume) of products offered by food and beverage firms.

The biotechnology sector is both newer and smaller, but with a growth rate of between 20-50% in recent years. The biotechnology sector is characterised as innovative and knowledge based, with a highly skilled workforce and strong alliances between firms and research institutes.

Research questions and objectives

The fundamental research question underlying this project is:

What is our collective productivity and how does it differ between firms within and between sectors?

Underlying this research question are three research objectives:

  1. To identify successful collective strategies and processes for sustainably improving firm productivity.
  2. To understand the attributes and value of intangible capitals such as intellectual (explicit and tacit knowledge), symbolic (identity and brands) and social (relationships and networks) capital bring to collective productivity.
  3. To compare firm level productivity in two sectors, the innovation and alliance intensive biotechnology sector, and the labour intensive food and beverage sector.


The project is using a primarily qualitative methodology, and, guided by the advisory board, will sample organisations of interest to build firm level case studies. These cases will identify the resources, capabilities and associated strategies that underpin higher levels of productivity in firms. As far as possible sector samples will be matched for broad product areas and a range of sizes. Archival and quantitative data related to productivity, such as revenue, input costs, output value and staff numbers will also be gathered.

The project will initially sample 10 firms in each sector, and interviews will be conducted with a number of knowledgeable informants in each of the firms (for example, CEO, Product Development Manager, Operations Manager, Human Resource Manager, general employees etc). At the completion of these interviews, if additional insights could be gained, further sampling will take place.

Dissemination of results

Dissemination of the results will be through reports, workshops and seminars to industry groups. Additionally, the project researchers will have ongoing participation in industry conferences. Reports and papers detailing the research findings will be published on this website as they become available. See timeline.