Food businesses feel the call for sustainable development (SD). This paper about the Finnish and Swedish food system actors about their understanding of and activities towards sustainability shows that there is commitment for solving aspects of sustainability and different strategies to do this. However, the food businesses also seem to get entangled with various dilemmas regarding sustainability, and to perceive contradictions between economic, environmental and social issues; however, these situations may also turn synergistic. The businesses studied expressed commitment to sustainable solutions interpreted by their sustainability strategies. The first identified strategy was a 'self‐made' effort, whereby businesses absorbed economically, environmentally and socially 'positive' ideas and implemented them in their activities. The second strategy was based on labels and included the certification of the environmental and/or social quality management system, the use of particular labelled products and local food. The third strategy for critical co‐operation within the chain meant learning about one’s food networks in co‐operation with other network actors, experts or brokers. These strategies seemed to impact differently on the sustainable development of the organizations on the one hand and the chain level on the other. Label based strategies offered more visibility than ‘self‐made’ strategies, which may, however, support extensive sustainability efforts or remain narrow saving strategies implying the risk to miss the opportunity for chain level development. As a rather rare approach, the critical co‐operation strategy may upgrade sustainable developments both on the organizational and chain level. Participatory research supporting creative and contextual sustainability developments was suggested as a promising future option for food businesses to aim at organizational and system wide SD.