|Case Studies for Organic Market development In Sweden, Case Studies for Early Organic Agricultural Development in Sweden|
In Sweden there is a long and successful tradition of farmer marketing co-operatives. However, in the early stage of organic agriculture, from the early to mid 1980s, the traditional cooperatives were not interested. Since the vast majority of the members had conventional production they also were afraid that marketing of organic products would put their own products in a bad light. The organic producers therefore had to develop their own marketing structures. The pioneers were the growers of potatoes and vegetables who founded the first organic marketing cooperative in 1983, ‘Samodlarna Värmland’, followed by similar organizations in the rest of the country, and in 1985 ‘Samodlarna Sverige’ for national coordination of sales within and between regions, but also for product quality, packaging material, and promotion.
In the late 1980s and early 1900s, similar cooperatives started for milk, meat, grain and eggs. They instead negotiated agreements with the mainstream cooperatives for processing and distribution. In the late 1990s, most of these activities were merged into the mainstream cooperatives and the organic cooperatives have either transformed themselves into interest groups for negotiations with the mainstream cooperative or merged with the national Ecological Farmers Association. Strategic development and marketing of the products to consumers was mainly taken care of by the retail chains, with the Consumers Cooperative, COOP, as an outstanding good example, as well as the largest dairy, Arla.
Working within the existing systems of processing, distribution, and retail has had big advantages. The efficient spread of organic products to the stores where consumers usually go made it easy for consumers to find them, and the demand has been growing in a way such that most products from an expanding production could be sold in the domestic market. The disadvantage has been the limited influence in price-setting and other conditions; globalization of the whole food chain has changed the market structure and made it more difficult for small-scale producers to work with. This has paved the way for new sales models in recent years, such as farmers’ markets and box schemes. These direct sales are seen as a positive complement to the bigger sales channels, where the big flows of organic products still go, but they are increasingly popular, answering to the new consumer demands of identity, local production, and less transportation. This direct contact with organic producers helps strengthen trust and creates a positive interest in all organic products, including the more anonymous ones in the supermarkets.
Exports have not been very important for the Swedish organic sector, even though there have been exports of grain and some processed products for many years. Imports have played a fairly big role in market development, and it is notable that several cooperatives import organic vegetables and grain to maintain the supply to the market. Today, imports constitute 15-20%% of the organic market.
Consumer awareness building
So far no major national campaign for organic products in Sweden has been organized. Instead there have been many initiatives and projects through the years run by individual actors or by several actors in cooperation, producing and providing consumer information, e.g. the retail chains, especially COOP. The Swedish Consumer Agency was assigned to inform consumers about organic agriculture, which had a very positive impact. Worth mentioning also are the consumer education projects ‘Farmer’s Ecology’ and ‘Eco-farmer in the store’, run by the Ecological Farmers Association, and KRAV’s work directed towards consumers. Despite some negative experience, the media have played an important role from the beginning, continually informing the public about organic in a positive way for many years.
Role of standards
It is interesting that it was a market actor, KF, already in the early 1980s that pushed the organic movement to build an efficient and trustworthy certification system so that they could market their products properly. Certification has been seen as a tool to communicate with consumers, particularly in the anonymous market, and KRAV has certainly been the foremost marketing tool during the first 20+ years of organic development. Although most consumers still have only a vague idea of organic agriculture, trust in the KRAV label is extremely strong and 96% of the population knows the label. Besides the obvious market advantages, the certification and standard-making process has had many other benefits, such as creating common ground and understanding among different stakeholders, increased knowledge about organic agriculture, distribution of responsibility among many different actors, and stringent communication of organic values.
From the beginning the big retail chains have all required KRAV certification of the products they sell, which has also made them active participants in KRAV. According to the EU regulation it is illegal to sell products as organic unless they are certified, but a small part of production is sold under the name of the farm or producer group, for example.
(Author: Inger Källander)
Further Reading on Sweden's Organic Sector Development:
(Adapted From IFOAM, Building Sustainable Organic Sectors)
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