Shedding light on what drives the dairy industry’s perceived legitimacy from a consumer perspective

  • Karsten Eelkema
  • Marian Johannes Müller

Student thesis: Master, one year


The dairy industry currently faces increasing institutional pressure from individuals due to the decreased legitimacy of the industry. It is, however, not true that the dairy industry lost its legitimacy entirely. Instead, individuals are divided in their legitimacy judgments. This thesis explores and understands the drivers behind the acceptance and rejection of the dairy industry’s legitimacy. Moreover, it aims to search for potential acceptance factors, thus offering the industry the chance to maintain and repair its legitimacy. In this context, repairing legitimacy is defined as the shift from legitimacy rejection to legitimacy acceptance by an individual.
To explore the two research questions, i.e., drivers behind the acceptance and rejection of the dairy industry’s legitimacy, twelve semi-structured interviews with young consumers (18 to 35 years old) were conducted. The qualitative data were analyzed doing a thematic analysis (TA). The findings demonstrated that individual legitimacy judgments vary heavily between individuals and are not set in stone. On the contrary, companies can amend legitimacy judgments through changes in practices in the industry or through communications by their activist opponents.
Based on these findings, it is concluded that legitimacy is an essential and flexible concept that can be gained, maintained, lost, and repaired. Moreover, there is a significant difference between the various kinds of legitimacy; granting the industry one specific kind of legitimacy does not necessarily imply that the whole industry is perceived as legitimate by an individual. These insights have various implications for academics and managers in the industry. First, the academic field should focus on legitimacy judgments from an individual
perspective instead of the industry or organizational perspective. Second, managers should decide between gaining complete legitimacy and maintaining the current price leadership position compared to plant-based alternative dairy products.
Date of Award2022-Jun
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorChristian Koch (Supervisor) & Jens Hultman (Examiner)

Educational program

  • MSc in Business Administration specialising in International Business and Marketing

University credits

  • 15 HE credits

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Business Administration (50202)


  • legitimacy
  • individual legitimacy judgments
  • institutional pressure
  • corporate social responsibility
  • dairy industry

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