Strategies for the Development of Organic Food: Page 2

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Strategies for the development of organic food: A Delphi Study




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


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.




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.