Local is the new organic
The variety and quantities of food in Europe can hardly be surpassed. We live in abundance and all the needed goods are available at any time and in many different variations. But what is actually behind these countless products, where are they produced and is there any reliable indicator for good quality? We have investigated these important questions and found out where consumers ideally buy their food in order to have a greater origin transparency and to ensure a more climate-friendly consumption.
In Europe, the Germans are at the top regarding organic food. In the supermarket, however, many consumers ask themselves the following questions:
„Do I reach for the organic tomato from Spain or rather the product from the region without a seal?“
„Is it sustainable to buy organic tomatoes packed in plastic boxes?“
„What is the best for my health and the environment?“
Sources: Spiegel, smarticular
Quality seals and certificates are a popular indicator for the estimation of the product quality and origin. An organic seal is important for many consumers, so many supermarkets and discounters have also expanded their range accordingly. However, what many do not know: Some farmers do produce according to the exact specifications required for an organic seal. But certifications are usually expensive and associated with high requirements, so farmers with smaller operations often shy away from them. Despite booming demand for organic fruit and vegetables, the proportion of organic farmland in Germany is stagnating. As a result, food is increasingly being imported from regions where it does not originally grow, e. g. tomatoes from greenhouses on the dry southern coast of Spain. Small-scale organic farms which fairly pay their employees and treat nature responsibly do only exist there rarely.
So, what could be an appropriate alternative? Wouldn’t it be a possibility to buy directly from the farmer or at the weekly market and to inform oneself personally about the products and the origin of the production? Many consumers have already addressed this issue and realized that „local“ could be the new „organic“.
What does “local“ mean regarding food?
The term „region“ is not protected by law and is therefore used in different ways. A regional product should therefore be „from the region for the region“. Then it is produced, processed and marketed within a defined region. Many people understand their region to mean the greater area around their place of residence, for example their district, their state or certain natural areas such as the Eifel, the Vogtland or the Taunus.
When shopping it is advisable for consumers to check the labels or websites of the manufacturers carefully. Advertisements like to claim that products are regional, but this does not necessarily mean that the products actually come from Germany. For example, the original product may be imported from overseas and then processed „regionally“ in Germany. Many foods which are advertised in this way have already traveled a considerable distance and are anything but local.
What are the benefits of local products?
1. Short transport routes and reduction of harmful greenhouse gases
2. Strengthening regional agriculture and securing jobs in the local economy
3. Valuable information about food and products directly from the producer
4. Preservation of important cultural landscapes (e. g. orchards, pastures and fields)
5. Independence from global trade structures and securing of supply in times of crisis
6. Regional agriculture is tangible. Children learn where the food comes from and its value
Why is it so difficult to shop regionally?
Regional shopping is only possible to a limited extent, as fruit and vegetables are mainly imported from abroad. One of the reasons for this is that production volumes in Germany are currently insufficient. In addition, consumers have to accept that seasonal product could not be found in the supermarkets the whole year. Compared to organic products, there are currently only a few cooperations or partnerships between retailers and regional producers. The corresponding marketing structures are therefore still rarely available and have to be created or expanded at first.
Is “organic” always the better option?
Most foods are meanwhile available as organic varieties, so it is up to the consumers to decide which products they want to buy. Not only fruit, vegetables and meat are available in organic quality, but also fish, for example. Here it is worth taking a very close look because, e. g. organic fish, can also be bred in net enclosures, swims in the same water and also releases the excretions and feed residues unfiltered into the environment, just like the „standard quality“. The differences: the stocking density is lower and the fish „are fed, for example, with fish meal and oil from the remains of organic fish processing.“ So, it is questionable whether organic fish is actually better.
Which product characteristics are relevant for the purchase decision?
This was determined as part of a study by Zühlsdorf + Partner Marketingberatung. With an agreement of around 94%, „freshness“ was named as the most important product characteristic. This is followed by the recognizability of „animal-friendly husbandry“ with 79% and the „taste“ of the product in third place with 78%. For two thirds of respondents, „environmental friendliness“ and „regionality“ of the food’s production have a high or very high relevance. A declared „organic quality“ still represents an important purchase decision criterion, but it is not as important than other product characteristics.
The future of local products
According to a study by the German Federal Program for Organic Farming and Other Forms of Sustainable Agriculture (BÖLN), more than a half of the Germans are willing to pay higher prices for food produced in their own region. In food retailing, so-called „regional brands“ are on the rise, which strongly remind the well-known organic labels. However, the credibility of these brands must be carefully examined, as the criteria vary widely. In addition, more and more initiatives are being formed throughout Germany to market agricultural products locally or regionally. In addition, the Federal Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producer Organizations (BVEO) has developed the logo „Harvested in Germany“ to make fruit and vegetables from local production even more visible in the trade.
However, if you want to be sure that your own food is actually grown or produced nearby, you should rely on regional purchasing from direct marketers. For example, this could be farm stores, weekly markets or factory outlets. Not only fruit, vegetables and meat can be bought directly from the producer, but also fish. For example, we sell our regionally produced SEAWATER Fish on pre-order via our own online store and offer our customers the opportunity to pick up the fish directly at our factory outlet. When picking up the fish on-site, the customers can also take a look inside the SEAWATER Cube. They can convince themselves, that the fish grows up in a species-appropriate manner and without the use of antibiotics or growth promoters. The SEAWATER Cube as a compact and fully automated fish farm can be purchased, for example, by farmers or investors who want to establish a regional supply of fresh fish. There are very different possibilities for this, e.g. as an additional business model to existing livestock farming in rural regions or as a large urban farming project for regional fish production in the city.
We have recognized the importance of regional products and would like to shape the future with our vision of a decentralized fish supply.
— Picture: SEAWATER Cubes
— Vermarktungsbericht: Fisch aus Aquakultur, htw saar