Monday, 11 March 2013

Behind the Brands

Post written by R. Cretney.

Oxfam has just released several pieces of interesting research into food and agriculture. One is a report on sustainable development in the Pacific which highlights the important role of agricultural projects - including providing access to high value international markets (Report available here). The other piece of research has resulted in an in-depth campaign aimed at getting us to think more about where our food comes from and how it's produced.

Consumers are increasingly voting with their wallets and choosing to buy products that align with their values. A recent study on organic agriculture found that the industry showed significant growth and is now considered "mainstream" in some centers, despite overall higher prices than conventionally grown food.

What does this mean for New Zealand agriculture?

Well, it provides an opportunity and a threat. Some consumers are willing to pay more for higher quality and more ethical produce. Domestically and internationally this could prove a growing selling point for New Zealand products.

The Oxfam campaign shows a growing move to highlight weaknesses or issues with some companies. This begs the question, how would our own companies stand up to such assessment?

Oxfam uses the criteria of 

  1. Transparency at a corporate level
  1. Women farm workers and small-scale producers in the supply chain
  1. Workers on farms in the supply chain
  1. Farmers (small scale) growing the commodities
  1. Land, both rights and access to land and sustainable use of it
  1. Water, both rights and access to water resources and sustainable use of it
  1. Climate, both relating to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping farmers adapt to climate change.

We might score very well on some of these counts - but others may need further work. One way that this debate is being played out in relation to New Zealand is through the current criticism of Tourism NZ’s 100% pure brand. One man is even taking the country’s advertising slogan to the Advertising Standards Authority to protest at the inaccuracy of the statement.

Recent research, by Woods and Coleman, could not find statistical evidence that New Zealand producers can influence their market power or move towards higher value markets in response to changing commodity prices. However, some NZ producers may be receiving a premium locally for niche sustainability products. Mike Barton from Taupo Beef who participated in AgDialogue has benefited from marketing his beef products as sustainably reared on the shores of Lake Taupo. Such a scheme is similar to the Irish "Origin Green" label mentioned in a previous post here. Farmers engaged in these practices show real potential for protecting and strengthening "Brand NZ". 

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