EU Food Quality Schemes and How to Make a Distinction For Your Food Products?
The EU developed quality schemes for food to help protect and promote products with particular characteristics linked to their geographical origin as well as traditional products. They were supposed to work as tools to help highlight the qualities and tradition associated with registered products and to assure consumers that these are the genuine products, not imitations seeking to benefit from the good name and reputation of the original. With the concurrent presupposition that the consumers are willing to pay a significant price premium for such high quality designated products, making quality schemes also an important marketing tool for producers of higher quality food.
But how well are the EU food quality schemes really doing their job?
EU Quality Labels
There are three quality labels the EU has created for its food quality schemes: Protected Designation of Origin, Protected Geographical Indication and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed.
Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) identifies products that are produced, processed and prepared in a specific geographical area, using the recognised know-how of local producers and ingredients from the region concerned. These are products whose characteristics are linked to their geographical origin.
Protected Geographical Indication (PDI) identifies products whose quality or reputation is linked to the place or region where it is produced, processed or prepared, although the ingredients used need not necessarily come from that geographical area.
Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) identifies products of a traditional character, either in the composition or means of production, without a specific link to a particular geographical area.
Consumer Awareness Is Key
When buying food, consumers look for quality cues as guidance to form expectations about the quality of a product. From a consumer perspective, food quality is mostly composed of experience qualities that are unknown before purchase – like taste and convenience supplemented by credence qualities like origin, production method, and healthfulness. Consumers, therefore, turn to quality cues – like the brand, the price, the appearance, and the shop in which the product is sold – to help them assess food quality and make purchasing decisions.
EU quality labels were designed to work as a quality cue, reducing consumer uncertainty associated with food purchases both regarding desirable product characteristics (like a preferred taste) and with regard to the underlying production process, including the product’s origin. But it seems they are performing this function only to a certain extent.
Different studies done on the role of EU food quality schemes in the consumer decision-making process of buying food show that awareness of the quality schemes and their meaning is key to the quality labels actually performing their role of a decision-aid and quality cue for consumers in store. And the general level of awareness seems to be low, suggesting that in most cases consumers will not even perceive the presence of the label when shopping. There are country differences, with higher levels of awareness in Southern Europe and lower levels of awareness in Northern Europe, suggesting that the level of awareness is related to the proliferation of the labels in the different countries. There is also evidence of regional variation, with higher levels of awareness in regions where protected products have their origin.
But while consumers are more and more concerned about the quality and origin of their food, it seems that the role of the EU quality labels is smaller than the role of other quality cues like brand and origin information, and that it is dependent on product and context. It seems that many products characterized by their geographical or traditional origin rather than EU quality label are preferred by consumer segments, indicating that consumers seem to make inferences about origin and traditional ways of production by other, non-regulated forms of branding and market communication.
Food Origin as Key Quality Cue
As the results of the studies show, food origin is one of key concerns and quality cues for consumers in their decision-making process. And while the EU quality labels were designed to give the consumers additional assurance in this field, they are only partially succeeding in fulfilling their function.
This raises the question for food producers on how to make a significant quality distinction between their products and other products in the market that would give them a true competitive advantage. Clearly communicating the food’s origin in a consumer friendly way is one of the solutions.
How to Effectively Communicate Food Origin to Consumers?
This is what the OriginTrail’s creators had in mind when developing the OriginTrail food traceability solution. Modern consumers are inevitably connected to modern technology – the internet and their mobile phones. They use them to find different product information and to make purchasing decisions on the go.
That is why OriginTrail developed a mobile application and a web solution that gives food producers a unique tool to easily communicate their food’s origin to the consumers. With OriginTrail consumers can trace the food all the way to the farms where the crops were grown or animals raised. With an act as simple as scanning or entering the EAN code of the product.
Full transparency of production and traceability is what distincts higher quality food products from those of lower quality. Consumers know it. And producers can easily make it their competitive advantage with OriginTrail’s help – by communicating food’s origin clearly in a consumer friendly way.
- EU agricultural product quality policy
- Consumer reactions to the use of EU quality labels on food products: A review of the literature
- Consumers’ Awareness and Attitudinal Determinants of European Union Quality Label Use on Traditional Foods
- Successes and failures of EU food quality schemes: experience from the case of ‘Scent of Prekmurje’, Slovenia
- The food quality labels: awareness and willingness to pay in the context of Italy