Short Food Supply Chains: EU project gathers consumer insights
A resurgence of interest in Short Food Supply Chains (SFSCs) comes at a time when Europe is seeking to provide more sustainable and healthier diets for its population.
Driven in part by changes in consumer behaviour, Short Food Supply Chains (SFSCs) are going through something of a renaissance. From an EU perspective, SFSCs are an opportunity to reconnect producers and consumers, and to rebalance power in the supply chain.
For that reason, the European Commission funded a project called agroBRIDGES – of which Teagasc is a partner – that aims to empower farmers through new business and marketing models based on SFSCs.
An online consumer survey was conducted across 12 European countries in the summer of 2021. Respondents cited 'quality attributes of the SFSC products (in terms of taste, freshness and healthiness)' as the major motivation for purchasing food from SFSCs. Other top motivations included food safety concerns, as well as support of local farmers, producers and the local economy. Access (i.e. a lack of local outlets that sell SFSC products) and affordability, however, remain leading concerns among consumers and hinder their ability to buy food from SFSCs.
More than 2,400 consumers from Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Turkey participated in the survey.
Further findings from the agroBRIDGES study reveal that, on a monthly basis, more than half of the respondents (51.3%) buy between 1% and 25% of their food from SFSCs, while fewer than one in ten (9.3%) buys more than 50% of their foods from SFSCs.
Fruit, veg and herbs top the list
In terms of the frequency of purchase, fruits, vegetables and herbs were bought by the majority of the respondents in the study on a weekly or fortnightly basis (64.1%), followed by baked goods, eggs and dairy.
Interestingly, fruit, vegetables, herbs, baked goods, dairy and eggs tended to be purchased weekly by consumers who bought more than 75% of their food from SFSCs, while those who bought less than 25% of their food from SFSCs tended to buy all products less frequently (see Figure 1).
At the recent Irish Agropreneur Series, hosted by Teagasc and fellow agroBRIDGES partner Munster Technological University, Teagasc Principal Research Officer Maeve Henchion explained the disparity in purchasing patterns, observing that issues relating to communication were also affecting consumers’ ability to purchase foods from SFSCs.
“Consequently,” Maeve adds, “producers place more emphasis on effectively communicating the benefits of SFSCs to consumers. Along with one-to-one interaction at the point-of-sale, communication initiatives could come in the form of product branding and leveraging of digital technology platforms, such as social media, to create awareness about available products and the benefits SFSCs offer as a whole.”
Figure 1. What percentage of the food you buy in value terms in an average month is from SFSCs?
Good practices that address consumer access
At The Irish Agropreneur Series, discussions focused on improving consumer access to SFSC products in Ireland. Drawing on insights relating to consumer motivations and barriers, the session moderator, Jennifer Attard from MTU, explained that several good practices have been identified through the agroBRIDGES project, and these could be used to mitigate some of the problems highlighted by consumers, particularly access to SFSC products. Two of these are listed below.
Online ordering platform, Netherlands
Consumers make their orders via the Rechtstreex website and pick up their products in one of 70 pick-up points. Consumers can order two days per week and Rechtstreex runs logistics and distribution of the products. The online ordering platform started in 2013 and currently has 2,500 consumer orders
According to Rechtstreex founder Maarten Bouten, the platform was set up to change the status quo concerning food systems, noting that food is very personal and it seemed strange that the system behind food was very industrial. “It makes sense to see where the food comes from and who makes it, and make that more transparent,” he said.
Rechtstreex allows farmers to determine their own prices. Consequently, there are no price negotiations; rather, Rechtstreex simply facilitates the relationship between the farmer and consumer.
Mobile farmers market, Lithuania
Established in 2009, the Lithuanian mobile farmers market features many varieties of foods in terms of taste and quality, according to Mindaugas Maciulevičius, Director of the Agricultural Cooperative, Lietuviško ūkio kokybė.
Mindaugas notes that, depending on the season, up to 500 small and medium farmers and producers sell their produce directly to consumers.
The Yes You Can video was developed in collaboration with Sustainable Innovation Europe (SIE) Spain and can be found on the agroBRIDGES website.
Further examples of Good Practices collated under the agroBRIDGES project that address consumer barriers are available at agrobridges.eu/interactive-catalogue-agrobridges
The contributors of this article would like to thank James Gaffey from Munster Technological University for his contribution to this research.
This work has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement Number 101000788.
Oluwayemisi Olomo, Postdoctoral Researcher, Teagasc Ashtown Food Research Centre.
John Hyland, Technologist,Teagasc, Mellows Campus, Athenry.
Maeve Henchion, Principal Research Officer/Head Agrifood Business and Spatial Analysis Department, REDP, Teagasc Ashtown Food Research Centre.
Jennifer Attard, Research Manager, Circular Bioeconomy, Research Group, Shannon ABC, Munster Technological University.