Strategies for the Development of Organic Food: A Delphi Study- Page 3

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Strategies for the development of organic food: A Delphi Study 



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



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.



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




6.   Conclusions

Implications: where do we go next