Strategies for the Development of Organic Food: A Delphi Study

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An Example of Another Organic Food Research Project


There is academic research from Aberystwyth University which, presumably, is similar to this research proposal.


Research Proposal:  Strategies for the Development of Organic Food (1998)


PART 1: THE BACKGROUND


1.1. International Comparisons: 1968-1998


1.1.1. A study of organic food in America particularly in the late 1960's and 1970's. Does the American experience have implications for Britain ?

1.1.2. A study of organic food in Austria between 1988-98. What reasons are there for the divergence between Britain and Austria ?

1.1.3. A discussion of organic food in Britain. The emphasis will be on the late 1980's and early 1990's; with a discussion of the conditions which prevented the development of organics. This would help evaluate the current and future importance of pesticide free food in Britain.


1.2. The current market for organic food in Britain: 1995-1998


1.2.1. To consider the present strategies which operate in the supermarket industry. The limitations faced by independent grocers and street markets may also be considered.

1.2.2. An analysis of the specialist organic supermarkets. What impact are specialist stores having on the market for organic food ?

1.2.3. A summary of the policies of the existing supermarkets and new entrants may help explain how the market will develop.


PART 2: IS THE MARKET FOR ORGANIC FOOD LIKELY TO CHANGE


2.1. An examination of the changing market for organic food


2.1.1. Is 1997 (see Mintel), an important stage for the development of pesticide free produce. The aim is to consider whether the market is close to a threshold where environmental factors and organic food gain greater importance. This could be useful as a guide for decision-making for policymakers. The adoption-diffusion model could be used here.


2.2. Economic and Environmental Factors affecting organic food


2.2.1. A forecast for the market for organic food based on the relationship between personal disposable income, price and environmental factors (Mintel 1/91). An attempt could be made to weight the three variables individually.

2.2.2.  A forecast based on how consumers perceptions may change over time.


PART 3: STRATEGIES FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF ORGANIC FOOD


3.1. An assessment of the strategies being pursued by supermarkets and The Soil Association. For example, the debate over the price of organic food could be examined.

3.2. The Delphi Method could be used to examine experts opinions on what policies would be most appropriate for the development of organic food. Also, The Delphi Method could be compared with the economic model outlined earlier (2.2.1.) to see where the outcomes of it coincide and where they do not.


PART 4: WIDER IMPLICATIONS.


4.1. Does the development of organic food offer a solution to some of the problems in farming. Would organics help farmers to obtain a higher price for their produce?

4.2. What reasons can be offered for consumers buying organic. Is personal health or broader environmental concern the main reason for buying pesticide free produce.


5. Strategies by consulting organisations such as The Soil Association


Should the Soil Association develop organics through local food links schemes e.g. box schemes or growers markets only? Alternatively, should they focus their attention mainly on large supermarkets? The answer to this may depend on the predicted size of the organic market; the greater the predicted growth the more the second option becomes relevant. A forecast on the sales of organic food will depend upon the relationship between (1) the level of personal disposable income, (2) the price of organic food and (3) the importance of environmental issues (Adapted from Mintel 1/91).


6.  Focus on particular products


The aim is to focus on fresh fruit and vegetables. This is because the market for organic meat and dairy products appears to be smaller and so more difficult to assess. Although, factors such as BSE need to be considered because they may have implications for sales of fruit and vegetables. More emphasis could be placed on produce such as lettuce which may be more affected by pesticides.


7.  Marketing or Policy strategies; Tools for analysis


The Innovation/Adoption Model, used in marketing, could be used to assess whether the market for organics is likely to remain largely unchanged or to increase. The effectiveness of a food voucher, making organic food affordable, as a policy tool.


Consumer strategies for the development of organic food


1.    Policies for the well-being of consumers or the public


The aim of the study is to examine whether the development of organic food is an appropriate objective. Are policies now needed to provide organic food more widely to consumers ?


2.    Agricultural policies: for the advancement of farming interests


Do organics represent a "new deal" for farmers. Would organics help resolve the apparent false dichotomy between farming interests and consumer concerns. The dichotomy is that consumers demand for cheap food may hinder farmers' incomes. Jeff Rooker has stated that "consumers want cheap food - but they want safe food above all else". If farmers could capitalise on this demand for "safe food" through organics then they may be able to earn higher prices for themselves and satisfy consumer concerns simultaneously.


3a     Generic strategies by supermarkets


The research could assess whether supermarkets could improve their generic policies. Grocers have been successful at pursuing mid-market strategies (Cronshaw et. al. 1990). The question now is whether these strategies are still viable or whether consumers are becoming more quality conscious and less price sensitive in which case policies may need to change in favour of organics.


3b     What strategy elements (tactics) could the major grocers adopt to develop organic food.


What can supermarkets do to encourage farmers to grow more organics e.g. to give incentives to growers?

What can supermarkets do to promote organics to support the demand for pesticide-free produce e.g. to encourage consumers to ignore blemishes?

What is the appropriate pricing policy for organic food? One that prices organics equivalently to conventional produce e.g. Tesco. Alternatively, one that charges more for organics than for conventional produce e.g. Sainsbury's.

Should grocers encourage manufacturers to develop processed organic food ?

A deeper analysis using economic models could be used to assess:

The relationship between supermarkets incentives and the increase in supply of organic food. Also the effect of grants on conversion rates towards organics.

The link between promotional campaigns and sales of organic food.

The effect of different pricing policies on sales.

The demand for organic convenience food.


4.  Policies for the representatives of Local Authorities who administer street markets so that they can better meet the needs of their communities


Should Local Authorities encourage their street markets to provide organic food? Alternatively, is the demand for organics likely to remain largely unchanged with box schemes remaining the significant method of distribution? Consequently, limiting the need for alternative outlets such as street markets.


5.   Strategies by consulting organisations such as The Soil Association


Should the Soil Association develop organics through local food links schemes e.g. box schemes or growers markets only? Alternatively, should they focus their attention mainly on large supermarkets? The answer to this may depend on the predicted size of the organic market; the greater the predicted growth the more the second option becomes relevant. A forecast on the sales of organic food will depend upon the relationship between (1) the level of personal disposable income, (2) the price of organic food and (3) the importance of environmental issues (Adapted from Mintel 1/91).


6.    Focus on particular products


The aim is to focus on fresh fruit and vegetables. This is because the market for organic meat and dairy products appears to be smaller and so more difficult to assess. Although, factors such as BSE need to be considered because they may have implications for sales of fruit and vegetables. More emphasis could be placed on produce such as lettuce which may be more affected by pesticides.


7. Marketing or Policy strategies; Tools for analysis


The Innovation/Adoption Model, used in marketing, could be used to assess whether the market for organics is likely to remain largely unchanged or to increase. The effectiveness of a food voucher, making organic food affordable, as a policy tool.


Summary: The academic aims of the research


An aim of the research would be to contribute to the existing literature on The Green Consumer; but with reference to organic food only. The purpose would be to examine consumer motives for purchasing organic food e.g. personal health or environmental concern.


References


Cronshaw, M, Davis E, Kay J, (1990) On being stuck in the middle or Good Food Costs Less at Sainsbury's" - working paper, Centre for Business Strategy, London Business School.

Mintel, Report on Organic Foods, January 1991.

Mintel, Organic and Ethical Foods, November 1997.

Jeff Rooker Independent 16/8/97


Strategies for the development of organic food: A Delphi Study

 

Rationale

 

The reason for the study is that organic produce is often overlooked in conventional business literature on food retailing.  However, this neglect of pesticide-free food may not be justified given the environmental concern of the late 1990's. The emergence of BSE, and the hidden costs of pesticides, suggests that the topic is worth examination. Also, Britain is well behind other European countries such as Austria on this issue, making the need to formulate potential strategies more urgent.  The aim is to ask experts how they would like see to Food Policy, in terms of organic food, progress in the future. Also, the objective is to consider how they want this development to come about.

 

Background to Delphi Method

 

Generally groups are self-contained and operate to promote their own interests. For example, supermarkets or environmental lobbyists. If representatives of both groups met to discuss the issue of organic food openly then communication may be hindered by knowledge of their respective backgrounds. However, with the Delphi Method, there is a means of anonymous intercommunication on a common basis. Consequently, it provides an objective means of structuring (group) communication where members are dispersed in space and time. Delphi allows people to answer in their own time rather than having to respond on a prescribed date. Also if people are late to respond then they can be contacted again within a specified time limit.     To summarise, the technique helps to get people interested because they have more freedom over their responses.  There was an earlier Delphi study on food, in 1972, which aimed to forecast developments in food technology.  However, the work is dated as it neglects environmental issues and overlooks the impact of the supermarkets.

  

Scope of the Delphi Study


The intention is for only two rounds of questionnaires. This is because there is unlikely to be much significant variation after Round 2.  The purpose will be to consider the most feasible options for the development of organic food but not to forecast the size of the organic market in the future.  The study is not overly concerned with how organic food may be distributed. The following could all be relevant; box schemes from farmers, home shopping through supermarkets, local authority owned street markets and conventional shopping through superstores.

 

The aim is to cover organic meat as well as fruit and vegetables. The deflation of organic food will be that as defined by The Soil Association. There is little to be gained from discussing organic standards, in detail, as this is strictly an agricultural issue.


Structure of the Questionnaire

 

It is necessary to split up the general topic into strategies that cover different demand and supply policies. The study would need to link the chain from food production to sale. The policies which increase organic food production could be described as supply-side policies. The strategies to increase sales of organic food could be described as demand-led strategies.  Respondents would be asked what the best way was to develop organic food within these two broad categories.

 

1. Better state funding of organic farming through an increase in conversion grants for farmers willing to transfer to Organic methods. 

 

2. A more consistent approach to organic food by retailers to encourage conversion.  The argument here is that supermarkets could sell organic food irrespective of consumer's perceptions of prices and blemishes to support farmers.


3. An advertising campaign to promote "organics". The aim would be to persuade consumers to be more tolerant of higher prices through an awareness of the hidden costs of conventional food (to highlight the health problems of pesticides).  Also to encourage more acceptance of problems such as blemishes on fresh produce (an increase in demand policy).


4. An increase in benefits so that a wider section of the population could afford "organics" (an increase in demand policy). For example a voucher to be used solely on food, could be given to households claiming benefits. 

 

The aim would be to explore the most likely combination of measures that would be effective in achieving improvements at an affordable cost and that would be broadly acceptable.  Technical feasibility is relevant here (Adler and Giglio, 1996, p.32).  The most appropriate method would be the one that scores consistently highly across the range of areas.  However, if none of the options are consistently technically feasible then it is likely that organic food will remain a fringe activity.

 

Composition of groups and the Segmentation of the study

  

A balanced distribution of expertise is needed; you would need an approximate split between those in favour and those against "organics". A range of different interest areas is also required. Finally, it is unrealistic to suppose that all the panelists will complete the whole procedure. Many respondents may not answer to the first or second re-circulation. The initial proposal for discussion is that 6 panels of 20 will be set up with the expectation that at least 15 respondents will provide full sets of replies. It is thought that the responses of up to 120 panelists could be analysed within the period of a PhD thesis.  These could be formed as follows:


Researchers in food and agriculture departments of Universities.

 

Academics who are environmentally inclined in Business Schools.

This group could also include food, environmental and business journalists

 

Environmental interest Groups such as Sustain Ability

Soil Association

Friends of The Earth

Greenpeace

The Vegetarian Society     

Henry Doubleday Research Organisation

Centre for Alternative Technology   

Compassion in World Farming


Organic Farmers

Conventional Farmers who could convert to organic methods


Organic Suppliers

The leading 10 grocers


Other organic practitioners e.g. Planet Organic


Stockbrokers or Retail Analysts such as Verdict Research Union who view "organics" as expensive and uncompetitive on the European market.

Food manufacturers could be part of this group too.


Large Multiple Food Retail

 

Other potential respondents -  


Politicians with an interest in food or agriculture. This would involve trying to contact political researchers to get a political viewpoint.  


The Criterion of Public Acceptability in Britain


The study could be extended to examine how far expert views coincide with representative samples of consumers, for example those interviewed by Mintel. It is important to see if experts have views which cannot be implemented because consumers do not "own" or accept the experts strategies. A decision on such a study would be made on completion of the Delphi process with expert panels. Similarly, the research could be broadened later to include politicians (see above). The purpose would be to see whether the views of food experts are acceptable to politicians.

       

References

 

British Food Manufacturing Industries Research Association, (1972), Trends in the food industry over the next twenty years - a Delphi exercise in technological forecasting

Limestone, H. and Turnoff, M (Eds.) (1975) the Delphi Method: Techniques and Applications. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley.

Percy, N. (1997) Market Led Strategic Change, Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann

Zillion, E. (1996) The Delphi Method and its contribution to decision-making. In M. Adler and E. Ziglio (Eds), Gazing into the Oracle: the Delphi Method and its application to Social Policy and Public Health, Chapter 1, pp. 3-33. London: Jessica Kingsley. 


Further Rationale

 

The following statements, from different perspectives, on organic food and farming are relevant:


"I firmly intend to promote more rapid conversion to organic farming" (Jack Cunningham - The Ecologist, Campaigns and News, November/December 1997).


"Organic production can equal fertiliser systems over time, but (has) received next to no state research backing. It is time this was rectified" (Tim Lang - The Times Higher (Education Supplement) 18/7/97).

 

"For more than a decade we (Safeway) have lobbied governments to encourage UK farmers to convert to organic standards" (SuperMarketing 1/8/97).


"There is a high level of interest in organic foods which can be turned into increased sales, but political action is needed to create the conditions in which farmers and growers can thrive" (Organic and Ethical Foods, Mintel Marketing Intelligence, November 1997).


Mintel's findings tend to rely on projections made by the Soil Association. Therefore, they may be presenting an overly favourable view. Nevertheless this broad agreement of opinion suggests that the theme of organic food is worthy of greater consideration. However, the statements concentrate only on one policy issue; that help should be given to farmers to increase supply. This issue is perhaps the most important issue to consider. Although, one of the purposes of this study is to suggest that development should focus on more than one solution.

 

Background to Delphi Method


The Delphi Method consists of a series (2 in this context) of questionnaires sent, by mail or by computer, to a pre-selected group of experts. These questionnaires are designed to elicit and develop individual responses to the questions asked and to enable the experts to refine their views as the work progresses. The first questionnaire (Q1) examines the theme in broad terms and invites answers and comments. The replies to Q1 are summarised and used to construct a second questionnaire (Q2). Q2 presents the results from Q1 and gives the respondents the opportunity to re-­evaluate their answers given the feedback from the responses of the whole group.

 

The application of the Delphi Method to the exploration and evaluation of policy issues, i.e. the Policy Delphi, is useful in situations where there is not a definite resolution of a given policy issue. It is suggested here that there are no clear cut solutions for the development of organic food despite Mintel's  analysis. Where there is no clear cut resolution experts become advocates for a particular resolution of that policy issue and must compete with the advocates of other concerned interest groups who are also affected by the final policy decision. The Delphi Method is useful because it could help food policy decision makers to secure expert opinions. Also, it could be used to reconcile different opinions on organic food. The aim is to clarify issues if possible. For example, to define clearly an appropriate value for conversion grants. Also, areas of agreement and disagreement can be identified and an understanding of the priorities developed (Adler and Ziglio 1996).

 

A Delphi exercise can be a motivating task for respondent experts. Also, it can provide an interesting way of exchanging and distilling information from the panellists involved. However, this requires proper management. Three issues are relevant; the careful construction of the questionnaire, the pre-testing of it and the clarity of the questions.

 

Structure of questionnaire

 

Apart from the main supply and demand issues other questions will be considered. For example:


What price premium, if any, can be justified for organic produce ? The aim is to find out how important "organics" are perceived to be. A lower price premium would indicate lower importance and slower development; if any at all. It seems that there will be price premiums in the forseeable future and only if the experts think these premiums can be justified will organics be developed.

 

How wide a range of organics - should be sold ?

 

The purpose is to examine whether the development of "organics" is going to be limited to a narrow range of fruit and vegetables in which case it would remain a niche market.

 

Should the development of organic food be confined to fresh produce only.


Alternatively, should its development be broader to include processed and convenience food ?

 

What is the definition of local in regards to "organic food".  The aim is to consider the potential for local sourcing of pesticide-free produce and whether sustainable strategies, e.g. limiting food miles, are possible. Also, the Soil Association suggest that: "sooner or later one of the supermarkets is going to break rank and make a virtue of the fact that it sources produce locally and only sells it in season" (Retail Week 4/7/97). An attempt could be made to evaluate that statement.

 

What are the reasons for going organic?

 

The aim is to find out what issues are important to the experts such as profit margins, concern for the environment or competitiveness. Issues such as yields will be given less emphasis as this will stray from the business policy focus.

 

Implementation of the Delphi Method

 

Agree on how people are going to be approached - no cold calling.

Send respondents an overall description of what I'm doing and why.

Give each panellist an instruction sheet.

Send each expert the first Delphi Questionnaire.

The structure of the project


PART 1: THE BACKGROUND

 

1.  Introduction

 

1.1. The development of Food Policy since the war and why this might make the development of organic food important. The aim is to draw on articles such as "The politics of Industrial Agriculture" (The Ecologist Vol.22, No.2, 1992). Also, Consumption In The Age of Affluence (Heasman et. al. 1995) will be useful here. This section will provide some historical context. It will examine how things have got to where they are now.

 

1.2. The implications of Stakeholder Analysis for Food Policy and the development of organic food. An attempt will be made to draw on The Stakeholder Corporation   (Wheeler and Sillanpaa 1997).

 

1. 3.     An examination of the generic strategies of British food retailers and what implications these strategies have had and could have for the development of organic food.

 

1.4. The rationale for doing a study on organic food. This section will discuss how I am going to deal with the problem. The focus will be on business policy although agricultural issues will be included where necessary.

 

PART 2: THE DELPHI METHOD


2.1 The background to Delphi - why it is being used

2.2 The scope of the study

2.3 The structure of the questionnaire

2.4 The composition of the expert groups


The data and findings


4. The analysis and interpretation of the data 

5. Discussion of methodological problems

 

PART 3:  STRATEGIES FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF  ORGANIC FOOD

 

6.   Conclusions


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