Culture, history, ethics and animal welfare are just as important to consumers as the organic food itself. But these values need to be emphasized in the stores.
Gunn-Turid Kvam: Senior researcher, Centre for Rural Research
Hilde Bjørkhaug: Senior researcher, Centre for Rural Research
(English translation by Inga Sæther, Centre for Rural Research)
There is more money to be made on organic food in Norway than ever before. According to Norwegian Agriculture Agency the store retail increased by more than 10 percent last year, and sales from hotels and restaurants has also increased considerably.
However, a new study shows that even if sales increase, we do not produce more organic food in Norway.
We are thus far from achieving the goal of 15 percent organic production and consumption by 2020. The production and consumption of organic food in Norway is low compared to that of most other Western European countries.
Increasing the sales and maintaining the price
To increase sales, we need to pursue other values ??in addition to the qualities associated with organic production. Here we have identified significant potential for growth in Norway.
Many people already associate organic food with local produce, small scale farms and better environment and husbandry. However, this is not enough to distinguish organic food from other foods when sold in regular grocery chain stores.
How should one proceed in order to boost organic food sales and at the same time justify the fact that organic food is more expensive?
Centre for Rural Research has in collaboration with nine other European countries studied what it takes to increase sales of organic food.
The project HealthyGrowth (2013-2016) is part of the research programme CORE Organic II. The reason for establishing this programme is the increasing growth in European organic agriculture. The objective is to shed light on important agricultural challenges such as sustainable production of quality products, reducing the dependence on high energy inputs, preservation of nature and environment, adaptation to climate change, animal welfare and rural lifestyles.
The project team consists of scientists from institutions in Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Slovenia, Turkey, France, Austria, Germany, Norway and Denmark. Professor Egon Noe at Aarhus University coordinated the project.
Centre for Rural Research has been the executive partner for HealthyGrowth in Norway. Studies of the three companies Kolonihagen in Oslo, Røros Dairy (Rørosmeieriet) and Røros Meat (Røroskjøtt) were carried out.
Local products with historical roots and unique flavors
In addition to protecting the ecological qualities, successful companies are characterized by having developed a number of other qualities tied to the products. Local production and links to the culture and history of the place where the food is produced are important qualities.
The products offered are often of unique flavors and based on traditional recipes and production methods. In the Norwegian context this is often referred to as specialties.
Ethical, social and environmental considerations
Businesses also emphasize the social and ethical aspects, such as fair trading with the farmers and higher standards for animal welfare than what is standard requirements for organic production.
Some have also chosen to focus even more on environmental aspects, for example by developing their own plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Food safety, being able to trace the product back to the farmer, has also been of importance for many.
Further, the absence of harmful additives and an emphasis on the ways in which the production can contribute to regional development.
Qualities like these are exactly what distinguish organic products from conventionally produced food mainly offered in the grocery chain stores. The producers who have succeeded in selling organic food are the ones who have been able to develop such qualities.
Thus, the organic aspect itself is only one of many qualities of the products.
A variety of communication and sales channels
Often the companies that succeed are initiated and established by groups consisting of the farmers themselves, and the farmers still have a central role in the governance. The focus is often on sale through a variety of sales channels, both direct channels such as sales through farmer’s markets and their own stores, and indirect channels such as grocery stores, hotels and restaurants.
Companies opting to sell in grocery stores seem to do this based on a conscious decision choosing a chain or store with a set of values ??that are the most similar to their own. A major challenge is to communicate the qualities of products to customers. This is solved by establishing a number of communication channels, such as direct sales, the presence of farmers and manufacturers in stores, and through social media.
Separate sales channels for special foods
In Norway, only a few organic companies have managed to grow successfully. These share many of the characteristics mentioned above. To some organic food companies, a major challenge is that they are too small or lack the capacity for producing the products in demand. However, there is a surplus of some organic products that are sold through grocery chains.
Although demand for organic food increases, the Norwegian production has not increased. It appears that the increased demand instead is covered by higher imports of organic produce from abroad. This is very unfortunate if we are to reach the national goals for organic production. It will also slow down the development of the other qualities that could contribute to a more sustainable food production.
It is also unfortunate for the growing group of consumers who wish to buy Norwegian organic products, but do not at the moment have access to this.
Results from the project shows that organic produce should primarily be sold to actors that specifically focuses on the sale of food with additional qualities. If one wants growth in organic production and consumption, the creation of more such companies should be facilitated to achieve the goals of organic farming in Norway.
This article was originally published in forskning.no.
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