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Organic marketing initiatives and rural development


Drawing on research on organic markets and collaborative initiatives by organic producers and other actors to serve them, this training framework is designed to serve a broad audience interested in building up and further developing organic marketing initiatives, such as farmers involved in collective marketing, advisors (especially in regions where farmers want to build up or improve their cooperation in marketing), processors involved in marketing initiatives, responsible persons in regional marketing boards/groups, interested persons from non-governmental organisations (as initiators or partners of market initiatives) and regional development planners. It is designed to offer insights into the basic concepts and be inspired (or warned!) by the good (and less good) examples given. The main challenges to successful marketing from the market and policy environment for such Organic Marketing Initiatives (OMIs) are described, as well as the key factors for management. At different stages of development, initiatives will have different priorities and activities. The manual provides an introduction to the background and the objectives and looks at the classification and approaches of organic marketing initiatives, and outlines the significance of OMIs for regional development. It describes the future development of the market in Europe and consumer trends, concerning organic as well as regional products. Policies of the EU with regard to the development of rural areas are outlined and potential support opportunities for OMIs are also indicated. The major part of the manual summarizes internal success factors for the three development phases of an OMI: the pre-start or preparatory phase; the start-up phase and the maturing or reorientation phase. These include the role of key persons and management, the importance of strategic planning and clear objectives, the role of innovation, the role of coherence, motivation and OMI identity, brand policy, the role of networks, the importance of market research, public funding, the role of economy of scale as well as opportunities and threats in general. In the Annex, we provide useful literature and information about the OMIaRD project team and the main figures from the European organic market analysis.
Our research provides the first comprehensive European study of consumer attitudes, motivations, expectations, barriers, and behaviour intentions towards organic products, using focus group discussions and laddering interviews. It defines the organic consumer, why they purchase organic food products, where they prefer to shop, and how can producers and marketers can match their marketing strategy to the consumer needs. Regular consumers are perceived as being well educated, health and environmentally conscious, often families with young children. Frequent buyers are often seen as well-off, middle or upper class, but this was occasionally challenged: consumption of organic food also seen more a matter of attitude than of high income. Some characterise consumption of organic food as a sign of elitism; in contrast others suggest that consumption of organic food is in vogue. Non-consumers are characterised by lack of interest (not primarily interested in health issues and food) or lack of resources (people with only a limited budget). Negative (alternative) images still prevail and may affect attitudes and purchase intentions. The majority of regular consumers fall into the median age group, and frequency of purchase is lower among older and younger consumers: however, employment status and gender seem not to influence consumption. Organic products are perceived as healthy because they contain no agrochemical residues, taste good, are farmed naturally, are not mass-produced, contribute to environmental and animal welfare, are associated with the home country and represent a sensible lifestyle. Consumers usually relate organic food to regularly purchased, fresh, unprocessed products such as fruit and vegetables, milk and milk products, meat and bread. Health seems to be the central motive for purchase. Price is still considered to be the main reason for non-purchase, but in most countries poor availability and lack of variety are also important barriers. Consumers want to trust in the health aspect of organic food; they require farmers, processors and retailers not to cheat, effective certification bodies, and desire more information to improve trust. Animal welfare also motivates purchase, organic food is often perceived as tasting better than conventional products, and in most European countries, environmental concerns provide motivation, but are less strong than non-altruistic values such as own health or food as enjoyment. The health issue and environmental protection issue seem to be connected, being rooted in the same concrete attributes, but differences exist between countries regarding the importance given to environmental protection. In German-speaking countries and the United Kingdom, consumers express a preference for buying organic food from their own region. Perceived higher prices and poor value for money are important barriers to purchase. The price is either too high or the consumer’s food budget too low. Some claim that organic food does not give good value for money. Besides higher price, lack of availability is one of the strongest arguments for not buying organic products. Supermarkets are the most preferred point of purchase in all countries, due to their wide ranges and convenient, easy shopping, but are also the most rejected point of purchase; consumers show remarkable mistrust when organic purchases are concerned. Specialist organic shops, especially very small health food shops, are losing importance as a distribution channel in almost all European countries and are only a preferred outlet of a minority of consumers. Organic shops are mainly preferred by regular organic consumers. Our study concludes that greater contact between consumers and producers would build trust. Participants recommend promotion of organic food in schools. Traditional marketing tools are also frequently recommended for the promotion of organic products. The majority of participants in all countries, and especially regular consumers, agree that organic food is expensive. Further studies are necessary because, as the focus groups indicate, price elasticity and reference prices can differ with regard to different organic products and product categories. Caution should be employed in generalising results. However, regular and occasional consumers represent distinct segments, differing in terms of benefits they seek and values that guide them. At national market level, research should examine in further detail what this study has only been able to explore in simple terms. At EU level, other specific relevant issues could become the focus of further research: how organic products differ, in terms of taste and appearance; product availability; higher perceived prices; the level and variation of organic food product knowledge; communication strategies to stimulate involvement; the concrete relevance of the cognitive dissonance that consumers experience when shopping for organic food in supermarkets.
The dynamics and prospects for development of the market for organic food have been explored using the Delphi method, an iterative process involving feedback to a panel of expert participants to refine perspectives on complex or uncertain issues. Organic food market experts in 18 European countries explored factors influencing the development of the organic market, future market prospects, and the role of governments in future market development. Of the total of 252 questionnaires initially sent out, response rates were 85%, 80%, and 76% in successive rounds. The first round required open responses to broad questions covering events and influences shaping prior development of the organic market in the respondent’s own country, its current state, the respondent’s expectation of its future development, and marketing initiatives formed by collaborating organic producers. The subsequent two rounds refined the attitudinal results into precise statements, which tested respondents’ degree of agreement or disagreement. The Delphi process allowed classification of countries according to the state of development of their organic market: established, growing and emerging organic markets. Food scandals, the media, and government policy were all considered to be important driving forces for the development of the organic market. Within each country, experts do not consider all markets for organic food to be equally developed. Markets in urban areas, and for cereals, dairy products and fruit & vegetables, are better developed than those for meat and convenience products and those in rural areas. Multiple retailers are considered the most important retail channel both at present and in the future, but experts commented on their heterogeneity and raised concerns about the impact of price-cutting policies on organic producers. With increased development of the organic market, the importance of alternative channels (direct marketing, specialist organic shops) may decline. Catering and public procurement is not expected to overtake any of the other outlets in terms of importance in the near future, with the exception of some countries with developed organic food markets, such as Austria and Denmark. Fragmented and underdeveloped markets and lack of marketing know-how were considered the most important of a list of possible constraints for the development of supply, followed by poor cooperation and communication and low levels of farm-gate premiums, whereas lack of supermarket involvement and competition from non-organic alternatives were not seen as important. High consumer price, poor availability of organic products, lack of consumer information and awareness and poor product presentation were considered important constraints for the development of demand, whereas competition from near-organic alternatives and lack of credibility of the certification systems were not considered important. Expected growth for the coming years varied among countries and product groups, with the lowest rates anticipated in Denmark (approx. 2%) and for cereals markets, and the highest rates in Germany and the UK (7-8%) and for meat and convenience products. These rates do not appear to be directly related to market development but reflect specific country conditions. Experts agreed that organic marketing structures need to improve with expected increases in both supply and demand; that a broader product range could help stimulate demand; and that new consumer groups should be targeted. They do not think that promotion should be based on risks associated with conventional food. Respondents clearly supported the need to develop EU standards in areas not yet well regulated (for example, horticulture and fish) and to consider the environmental impact of trade. Integration of organic agriculture with other rural development initiatives is considered important both for the organic market and for rural development. Identical business and marketing principles apply to organic and other marketing initiatives, and producer cooperatives can play an important role in securing a fair price for organic producers. Demand in rural areas is not well enough developed to offer significant potential for OMIs. Experts associate a variety of different issues with rural development and do not have a shred understanding of the contribution that organic farming can make, apart from improved soil fertility, local environment and landscape. Poor quality of management is the most important of a list of barriers preventing OMIs from achieving their objectives, followed by a shortage of capital. This corresponds well with the classification of policy support instruments to enhance OMI contribution to rural development, where training in business skills for OMI managers, initiatives to stimulate consumer demand and stability in government support were considered the most important measures.
Results of two surveys of national organic markets in Europe (all EU member states, two accession countries, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, and two EFTA countries, Norway and Switzerland) in the years 2000 and 2001 provide information on organic agricultural production, consumption, supply deficits, imports, exports and farmer and consumer prices. Products covered included cereals, oilseeds, olives, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, wine, milk, beef, sheep and goat meat, pork, poultry and eggs. The aim of this study was to analyse all important aspects of the organic market, in order to provide both market actors and agricultural policymakers with reliable advice about its development in Europe, and about general factors that promote or hamper market growth. By adopting a coherent approach and cross-checking, the estimates reported can be used to assess, in broad order of magnitude terms, the significance of the organic market in the countries studied. The share of organic products in total agricultural production in the EU remains low, ranging from 0.3% for organic pork and poultry, up to 4.9% for organic olives. Information about organic consumption as a percentage of the total consumption of different food products (market share by volume) ranged from 0.3% for organic pork and poultry, to 1.8% for organic cereals. The organic share of total food sales on average in the EU was 1.0%; however, differences between countries surveyed range from 0.1% in the Czech Republic to 3.5% in Denmark and 3.7% in Switzerland. Foreign trade was also investigated, though few experts were able to confidently estimate the amount of organic products involved. For plant products, in 2001 the EU was a net importer of organic cereals, potatoes, vegetables and fruit, but a net exporter of organic olives and organic wine. The importance of organic animal products in international trade was rather less. The EU was a net importer of organic beef and poultry, but a net exporter of organic milk (especially of cheese), pork and eggs. Product groups for which supply deficits were expected in many countries for the years 2003 and 2004 are organic fruit and vegetables, pork, and organic animal feed. Considerable price differences, even between neighbouring countries, show that market transparency for organic food was particularly poor. The EU average for consumer price premiums in 2001 varied from 28% for organic baby food in glass jars, up to 163% for organic cucumbers. Price premiums also varied between different countries, and distribution through different sales channels played an important role in this regard: in countries where general food shops were very active in the marketing of organic food, consumer price premiums were usually lower than in those countries where organic food shops or direct sales provided the main sales channels. The importance of general food shops as a sales channel for organic products is underlined by the fact that consumer price premiums were lower in countries with a high involvement of general food retailers. One contributing factor is lower distribution costs; it is cheaper to transport larger volumes of organic products, together with conventional products, to bigger distribution centres and on to major retailers, than it is to transport small volumes to many small specialist organic food shops. With such market data, producers, processors or traders can identify where there are deficits and oversupply in the market and, hence, which products are worth producing and selling. It is relatively difficult for agricultural producers to respond quickly to evolving customer demand, due to lengthy production cycles and climatic factors. For conventional farmers deciding to switch to organic methods, the two-year conversion period further delays the appearance of the product on the market. Reliable market data, collected systematically over several years, helps to predict the development of consumer demand. Agricultural policymakers also need reliable advice about organic sector development in Europe, and about general factors that promote or hamper market growth. An urgent need exists for more regular, consistent data collection at a European level, and progress on this issues is being achieved through a subsequent FP5 project (QLK5-CT-2002-02400 EISFOM) to support improved data quality, standardization and detail on specific commodities.
Our study of Organic Marketing Initiatives (OMIs) was designed to explore the extent to which the benefits of organic production are secured and multiplied for the rural environment and the communities that depend on it by marketing and processing activities. We used a comparative case study approach (informed by Actor Network Theory) particularly as examples of rural development driven by organic production are as yet relatively rare. Four case study OMIs were selected in Austria, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, and the process involved both local teams and researchers from other countries, and an Advisory Committee of local actors. Fieldwork was carried out consecutively in October and November 2002. The key contributions of the OMIs to rural development of all OMIs studied are relatively modest in terms of direct income and employment generation, although their indirect or softer contributions are considerable, supporting and embedding confidence and raising regional profile. They also provide a model for improved impacts in the future, particularly if marketing management can be improved. Most operate in peripheral areas valued for their culture, landscape and production of traditional, typical regional products; most have good transport links to thriving markets. Institutional conditions provide a key dimension to rural development success. However, other initiatives capitalising on regional image have bypassed organic producers, who have tended to concentrate on more specialised opportunities; tensions exist as to whether organic agriculture should be promoted as a mainstream opportunity or market niche. We use Actor Network Theory (ANT) to explore interdependence between initiatives and regional institutional actors in rural development processes. The main process analysed by the ANT is the growth and extension of spheres of influence and power, through processes of translation or enrolment. Translation follows four stages: an actor analysing a situation, defining the problem and proposing a solution; other actors becoming interested in the solution proposed and changing their affiliation to a group in favour of the new actor; the solution becomes accepted as a new concept and a new network of interests generated; and finally, the new network operating to implement the proposed solution. This framework is increasingly used for analysis of rural change processes, showing how rural networks function, and exploring their ability to involve various stakeholders into a common set of interests. Case study OMIs have not been particularly active in introducing their ideas and solutions to institutional structures, though the prevailing institutional climate plays a key role in the nature and extent of the cooperation. OMIs should attempt to become more open-minded: internally, they need to absorb newly converted organic farmers whose perceptions and experience is likely to be different from that of the existing membership; externally, in the framework of intensifying competition, partnership between OMIs is required in consumer education, promoting the wider social, cultural and environmental benefits of organic food. Conflict and misunderstanding between regional policymakers and OMIs need to be resolved through a process of dialogue and integration; this will help to reinforce public sector support for the process of new OMI formation, and also to take advantage of Structural Funds. National governments have a clearly defined role in supporting the organic sector, in regulating organic standards, providing conversion aids, carrying out research and providing extension services. A broader perspective, concentrating on the position of primary organic production in the supply chain, would assist OMIs; specifically by investigating the market potential of supply chains extending beyond home regions, and provision of supportive infrastructure; and contributing their own resources to supplement the likely shortfall in the Rural Development Plans funding. All the OMIs we investigated had a keen interest in and a desire to learn from the experience of others. The European Commission, in consultation with national governments, should act to establish a continent-wide network of producer initiatives, which market sustainably produced primary products to disseminate best practice.
Use of scenario analysis, a tool for systematic strategic thinking and planning, allows anticipation of the future environment for organic farming and Organic Marketing Initiatives up to the year 2010. It involves identification of the forces that drive a system and examination of the interaction of current trends and uncertainties within a given market domain and time frame. This application is based on four different scenarios. Key issues covered include trade liberalisation and the framework of competition between companies; regulation, including environmental and rural development measures, certification standards and the scale of marketing operations; regionalism, including consumers’ attitudes toward products of regional origin and the stimulation of farmers’ initiatives; and the level of economic welfare in Europe. Scenarios involving strong trade liberalisation in the food market and a reduction in regionalisation would present the biggest challenge for OMIs; on the other hand, a move towards increased regionalism with an effective regulatory framework, even with ongoing trade liberalisation, would strengthen OMIs’ activities. The scenarios were developed to test strategic business options for Organic Marketing Initiatives. These were: continuous quality management; diversification into services; product innovation and development; horizontal cooperation; supply chain enhancement; developing consumer relations; developing regional economic, social and research networks; developing product-place identity; segmentation and branding; and improving management and workforce skills. Maintaining, and reinforcing, regional differentiation of food products appears, as be a necessary condition for the development OMIs, while liberalisation does not necessarily have negative effects. Liberalisation of world markets, EU enlargement and food scares are all factors that might boost demand for organic products due to an increase in concerns about food safety. Organic products might become strongly preferred as they represent a safeguard, reassuring consumer concerns about health. GMOs and food scandals in the conventional sector can generate a strong shift in consumers’ preferences in favour of organic products. Crucial factors across the four scenarios are those related to information about organic products: action taken to increase available knowledge relating to the organic sector and organic products, such as visible labelling, media coverage and advertising, may prove effective in supporting the demand for organic products in the future.
Deeper insight into the conditions in which OMIs operate successfully comes from a detailed analysis of OMIs comprising sixty-seven case studies in thirty-five European regions, interviewing OMI managers as well as external experts. These regions, selected on common criteria, were grouped in less favoured areas and non-LFAs, of which some had favourable conditions and others unfavourable. The assessment of the OMIs surveyed showed that internal business-related factors are more decisive for success than external, context-related factors. Yet, in some cases, external factors (such as niche demands, policy support measures) can improve their potential. The analysis made clear that the vision of the founders, their strategic options and their management choices primarily determine an OMI s success; in particular, the adaptation of strategic objectives to changing market and political environments during different phases of development. Also, maintaining the motivation of members and other internal and external cohesion factors are major challenges to achieving not only economic, but also wider social, environmental and political goals. A basic assumption of the analysis is that choice of different objectives has a crucial impact on the OMIs strategies and, consequently, on their successful development. It became apparent that OMIs aiming for social or environmental objectives tend to underestimate financial needs. In particular, such OMIs lack competency in financial management, in contrast to those with clear economic objectives. On the other hand, OMIs focusing mainly on economic objectives tend to neglect both human relations and regional networking. The most challenging marketing strategies and management issues for OMIs are improving their supply policy (in sufficient quantity and quality), keeping logistic costs to a minimum and not relying too much on public funding. A final key success factor for an OMI is networking; along the supply chain and also in the region. However, success is seen in more general terms as combining effectiveness (formulating and achieving strategic objectives in line with initiators expectations) and efficiency (achieving objectives while maximising output at minimum cost). This relates to the capacity of OMIs to set and achieve relevant economic, social and environmental objectives, and manage internal resources in a manner which minimises costs for a given output (or maximises output for a given cost), taking into account changing market and policy conditions.

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