Despite the growing popularity, there is still much to be done to increase the interest of customers to choose local food, persons active in the agricultural sector agree.
“Local food is good diversification of the assortment offered in the sales network,” Ľubomír Drahovský, an analyst with the Terno market research agency, told The Slovak Spectator.
According to him, the interest in purchasing local products is increasing, but it differs across Slovakia. It is greater in places with higher purchasing power, supported by higher incomes, as this food is more expensive than what is usually sold in a shop. This is however typical not only in Slovakia, but also abroad, Drahovský said.
In the countryside, people more often grow their own fruits and vegetables, and also make their own meat and bakery products, which “creates high pressure on the sales network in these regions”, the analyst explained.
“Consumers in Slovakia do not rush to supermarkets for low prices, but become more interested in origin and composition of the products they buy,” Zdenko Kupec from Lokapetit, a company offering local food, told The Slovak Spectator.
The company works in a way that their customers choose the products on the internet and the shop delivers it to them in boxes. They were inspired by Great Britain where there are many companies with very similar activities, both at the local and national level, the Sme daily reported.
According to Kupec, their customers buy local food mostly because they want to live healthy and eat quality food. Moreover, they want to support local farmers and producers, or seek alternatives to the assortment offered in retail chains. Additionally, there are people who prefer online purchases and home deliveries as they find it more convenient.
Zuzana Homolová from Ekotrend Slovakia, an NGO focusing on ecological agriculture and sustainable life, cites also various food scandals to be the reason for an increased interest of customers to buy local food.
Despite the growing interest of people in what exactly they buy in grocery stores, they are still not motivated to regularly purchase the local food, said Stanislav Nemec, spokesperson for the Slovak Agricultural and Food Chamber (SPPK). To make people realise that it is the best to eat food produced in the place of consumption or close to it and make them buy more local food, it is necessary to work with them longer and more intensively, he added.
Not only should the consumers find the producers from whom they will buy the products, but also producers will have to pursue improving the quality and enriching their assortment, according to Nemec.
“Then the sales of local food will continually increase and, to at least a certain extent, will positively influence the currently dominant forms of food sales and subjects which control them,” Nemec told The Slovak Spectator.
Weak state support
The Agriculture Ministry says that the purchase of local food does not only support the local producers, but also improves the environment.
“Local food is grown in the region where the person lives, which reduces the negative impact on the environment compared to imported food,” Peter Hajnala, head of the Agriculture Ministry press department, told The Slovak Spectator.
Moreover, thanks to the support of local food sales farmers keep their jobs, which also increases the share of local economy in the market, he added.
Regarding the support for sales of local food, the ministry mentioned its activities in marking the agricultural products and food produced in Slovakia. Among the aims of the regulation which came into force in July 2014 is the support and promotion of such food, as well as activities focused on showing people regional specialties and help quality food find a place in the market, Hajnala said.
He also pointed to another provision of the regulation relating to marking and promoting the food produced and processed in Slovakia. To receive the Brand Quality SK, producers have to fulfil several conditions, including using 75 percent of the ingredients in a product’s creation mandated to come from Slovakia, although water is not included in the calculation, and making every step of the production process on Slovakia’s territory.
Though the state has already passed measures to support the sales of food by farmers directly to customers, there is still much to do in this area and the already passed measures cannot be considered final, Nemec said.
“Conversely, there should be more of them, similarly to activities of the producers themselves, as well as other subjects in the market,” Nemec added.
According to him, the government has already adopted development concepts of agricultural primary production and the food industry, but it will also have to deal with the sales of domestic production.
Homolová however points to the weak state support in this area. She hopes this will change soon, as they contribute to the creation of materials for primary producers which should be passed by the ministry in first quarter of 2015.
To support the sales of local food, Drahovský proposes to reduce the VAT on basic food, at least by one half. This would prevent cross-border purchases, as the neighbouring countries currently have significantly lower VAT on food than Slovakia.
“Moreover, it would create space to allow not only big domestic production, but also local production find its place in the market,” Drahovský added.
The shops selling local food are no rivals for big international retail chains, Drahovský told Sme. While these smaller premises have revenues of several millions a year, the retail chains have them at several hundreds of millions a year.
Moreover, the Starý Otec (Grandfather) company, which also sells local food, has shops in the same shopping centres as bigger retailers.
“They are not a problem for us,” Jozef Piroško of Starý Otec told Sme. “Conversely, their philosophy of lower price, which is often accompanied with lower quality, increases rather than decreases the number of our customers.”
On the other hand, bigger retail chains also try to get more local products to their offer, the daily wrote.
3. Feb 2015 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechová