Which is more important locally or biologically

Food: regionality counts more than organic

Organic products are intensively advertised by retail chains. But for consumers, regional foods are now much more important than organically produced goods.

Vienna. Organic food is in. The offer is very popular not only in all supermarkets, but also at discounters. But there is a trend in consumer behavior that exceeds organic by far: the regionality of food.

According to a study by A. T. Kearney, half of consumers mean that one in five products in their shopping trolleys is a regional food. In contrast, only every tenth item in the shopping basket is an organic food. “And almost two thirds of the Austrians surveyed buy regional food every week. This puts the Austrians well ahead of Germany and Switzerland, ”says Mirko Warschun from A. T. Kearney, highlighting the pioneering role played by domestic consumers.

But what does regionality actually mean? Even if, unlike organic, standards and seals of approval are missing, what customers associate with it can be described in just a few keywords, says Warschun. Freshness, seasonality, sustainability, higher quality are just as important as resource conservation through short transport routes. In addition, the consumer wants to promote local agriculture and do something good for smaller businesses. Organic foods, a legally defined term in the EU, are products that come from ecologically controlled cultivation. Meat must come from animals that are kept in a species-appropriate manner. However, it cannot be ruled out that fruit, vegetables or meat will travel long distances.


How do you define regionality?

When it comes to labeling regionality, the picture in Austrian food retailing is mixed. "We do not consider a binding definition of regionality with the introduction of a logo for all providers to be expedient," says Spar company spokeswoman Nicole Berkmann. The concept has too many dimensions. Regionality simply means more than just putting Styrian pumpkin seed oil and Salzburg hay milk cheese on the shelf. 40,000 products from almost 2,500 local producers can be found on the Spar shelves.

At Rewe, products that come 100 percent from Austria are specially labeled. A more precise definition of regionality can hardly be achieved due to the different regional, cultural and culinary contexts and traditions in Austria, it says there. With the “Billa Regional Shelf”, the group comes very close to a recommendation by the Kearney experts that products from local producers and small businesses should be presented specifically.

At Diskonter Hofer, they emphasize that the “Back to the Origin” brand combines organic and regionality. All organic ingredients and raw materials that are valuable for the manufacture of a product, such as feed and seeds, must be of Austrian origin. In the case of milk, for example, the discounter cooperates with four suppliers from different regions in order to signal regionality and freshness.

The three companies reject state interference - as in Germany. The “regional window” will be introduced for the neighbors at the beginning of 2014, which should bring more clarity for consumers and prevent abuse.

“The big food retailers have different interests and just don't want to be persuaded. You want to make your own decisions because that can increase the economic effects, ”explains Kearney expert Warschun.

The recipe should also work, because in addition to weekly markets or directly from the farmers, the majority buy regional food in the large supermarkets. The authors of the study also ascertained which products consumers pay particular attention to their regional origin. Eggs, vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products top the ranking.

Conclusion: A. T. Kearney confirms that the path taken by companies to focus more on regionalism is the right one. The question remains: are consumers just as prepared to dig deeper into their pockets as they do with organic products? The surveys do not give a clear picture. While almost two thirds of consumers stated that lower prices would increase their consumption of regional products, 36 percent would be willing to accept a price premium of up to 15 percent.


1.2 billion euros in sales with local goods

Since increased brand or logo recognition would lead to higher sales, Warschun recommends retailers to improve information about products and their origins. He estimates the sales potential for regional articles at 20 to 30 percent of Austrian food retailers. That would be 5.5 billion euros.

A remarkable figure: in 2012, the domestic food retail sector had a total turnover of 18 billion euros. Regional products accounted for 1.2 billion euros of this.

At a glance

According to a study by A. T. Kearney For half of consumers, every fifth product in their shopping cart is now a regional food. In contrast, only every tenth item in the shopping basket is an organic food. For customers, the regional origin of products is more important than organic farming. More than a third of consumers are willing to accept a price premium of up to 15 percent for local products.

Over 1000 consumers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were asked about their grocery shopping preferences.

("Die Presse", print edition, 14.09.2013)