Marketing the key to boosting Czech organic uptake

Related tags Organic food Organic farming

Czech shoppers are refusing to pay inflated prices for organic food
- something which may burst the bubble of the country's booming
organic farming industry, unless a sharp increase in government
subsidies can turn the situation around. Chris Mercer
reports.

New figures show that organic food makes up less than 0.1 per cent of total food consumption in the Czech Republic, despite the number of certified organic farms in the country rising from just 87 in 2000 to more than 800 at the start of 2004, covering 5.5 per cent of the country's agricultural land.

The stark contrast between production and consumption may soon put Czech organic farmers under pressure, according to Tom Vaclavik, owner of consultancy firm Green Marketing which promotes organic products.

"Today, there is a hard core of organic food consumers and then occasional buyers. It is not a problem yet, but it could become a problem in two or three years if consumption does not grow,"​ said Vaclavik, who wants the government to get more involved in promoting organic farming.

"If the government does not support some marketing measures and does not inform the public, we might have a problem, or everything will simply be exported, which would be a shame,"​ he said.

Vaclavik thinks that people simply do not know why they should pay the extra money for organic products. "For many Czechs the prices of organic food are simply too high, with no explanation why that is so. It is easy to see why they do not buy."

The higher price of organic products is a problem in every country - even in Europe's leading organic markets such as the UK and Germany - due to the stricter production techniques and more costly raw materials involved.

But despite a poor consumer take-up, Vaclavik said he thought the Czech market for organic food had good potential, and could grow by around 20 per cent in the next five years.

"In the last few years, government subsidies for organic production have tripled, so we can expect a lot of new products in couple of years,"​ said Vaclavik.

His estimate would see market growth keeping pace with a forecast by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) earlier this year, which said that the number of acres used for organic farming in the Czech Republic will also rise by another 15 to 20 per cent over the next five years.

The Czech organic market grew 16.6 per cent between 2002 and 2003, giving it a value of €6 million. But Czech consumers still remain a long way behind their European counterparts, spending a mere €0.6 per capita on organic food compared to a European average of €24.

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