The new agri-food market is considered a detrimental factor for the competitiveness and financial equilibria of agricultural cooperatives. According to this view, as a result of market saturation and globalisation processes, shifting investments to supply chain forward activities (e.g., for brand development or for research and development activities) would represent a serious threat to the
cooperative model. Taking a contrasting view, this paper aims at demonstrating that the cooperative model continues to play a strategic role in the current competitive environment. In particular,
the adoption of the knowledge-based theory of the firm combined with the “open innovation” approach permits a renewed interpretation of the role of modern agricultural cooperatives as
knowledge developers and disseminators, for the benefit of members and their communities. This theoretical approach will be tested by studying a sample of agricultural cooperatives operating in
the province of Trento, in North-East Italy.