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Consumer role

in this step, we explore the role of the consumer in the transition to RA.
A family doing its shopping a the food supermarket
© EIT Food

Consumers’ attention to food safety issues and environmental issues has increased substantially in recent decades because of increased concern about their own health, the environment’s health, and the crises and emergencies reported worldwide.

Once the only option, organic agriculture has always been a production option followed by at least a few farmers all over the world. These farmers were prompted by ethical and environmental motivations, as well as by committed consumers who supported organic agriculture thanks to a separate but fairly elitist distribution channel.

Organic food now has become a viable alternative for an increasing number of consumers that are worried about the presence of chemical residues and the negative consequences on the environment caused by intensive production methods. Many farmers also now see organic farming as a way to stabilise or even increase their income due to public policy support and growing market demand.

Over the past few decades, we’ve witnessed a marked increase in demand for organic products – and while ‘regenerative’ and ‘organic’ are not the same, organic agriculture is often the first step towards becoming regenerative. It’s also a useful indicator of the future market opportunity for regeneratively farmed products, as buyers of organic products are likely to be the first to adopt regenerative products.

So it’s helpful to consider trends in organic produce; but in recent years, we have also begun to see consumers develop an interest in the “step beyond organic”.[1]

Awareness of regenerative agriculture is growing steadily, as evidenced by the increase in Google searches of the term (Figure 1).

1 Figure 1: Interest over time in search term “Regenerative Agriculture”, Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. Source: Google Trends.

As shown on the chart, regenerative agriculture has had a huge surge in interest in the past six years.

As consumers become increasingly educated and concerned about the climate, much of the interest in regenerative farming stems from a growing awareness of its environmental benefits. For example, the public are increasingly waking up to issues like biodiversity in farmland, the enrichment of soil and the conservation of ecosystem services.

Regenerative practices help eco-conscious consumers to reduce the negative impact of their consumption, and might well be the ‘next big thing’ in the search for a more sustainable lifestyle. And with sustainability at the top of the global agenda, farmers have an opportunity to become a leader of sustainable production, just ahead of the curve.

In the absence of official certification, regenerative products are not well identified in the eyes of the consumer. However, to get an idea of society’s awareness, we can analyse consumer trends linked to organic products, since, as we have already mentioned, they are often the first to convert to regenerative agriculture.

In 2020, the European organic market reached a new growth record of 15%, with a turnover of 52 billion euros, of which 44.8 billion within the European Union. This was the highest growth in the last decade. The EU represents, after the United States (with a turnover of 49.5 billion euros), the second largest market for organic products in the world. The certified organic area is also increasing and reaches 17.1 million hectares in Europe, which represents 3.5% of the total cultivated area on the European continent, with France having the largest certified area (2.5 million hectares), followed by Spain (2.4 million hectares), and Italy (2.1 million hectares).[2]

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In Europe, consumers spent €63.30 on organic food per person annually (European Union: €101.80). Per capita, consumer spending on organic food has doubled in the last decade. In 2020, Swiss and Danish consumers spent the most on organic food (€418 and €384 per capita, respectively).[2]

Consumers are prepared to pay higher prices for food with additional health and environmental benefits. Even now, regenerative products are able to take advantage of other, more widely-recognised certifications (eg. ‘organic’) to command fairer prices. Once consumers understand the benefits of regenerative agriculture, this ‘price premium’ will play a vital role in supporting the transition.

Those who make an early transition to regenerative stand to benefit the most. Based on expert input, Commonland & KPMG estimate price premiums for regenerative products of +130% in the first years, declining overtime due to expected increase in supply. A gradual decrease in price premium from +130% to +20% over 20 years is assumed.[3]

As a consumer, how can I support regenerative farmers?

Today, buying directly from farmers is the most efficient way to source fresh food and support sustainable production. Going to farmers’ markets is one option, but one that not all European citizens can do as it takes more time to shop than going to a supermarket. There are now digital platforms that promote the consumption of regenerative, organic, or simply local food, allowing people to buy directly from the farmer with fewer intermediaries.

One example is Crowdfarming, a farming alternative that connects more than 140 farmers with thousands of households in Europe looking to buy directly from producers. It is a website created in 2017, which offers a farming solution created by young farmers looking to simplify the sale of food, without a chain to act as a middleman. Within this platform, farmers get to sell under their own brand and receive feedback from consumers. On the other hand, customers get more transparency in the purchase of food and the possibility of becoming an investor in this agro-social project.

Direct purchasing from cooperatives can also be an option. Farmers’ cooperatives are an opportunity to buy the products of this productive sector directly, reducing intermediaries to a minimum.In this type of market, fresher and cheaper food can be obtained, as the relationship between producers and consumers is closer.

Cooperatives and direct purchase from the farmer minimise intermediaries, reduce costs and bring consumers and producers closer together.

Their dynamics contribute to boosting life in agricultural areas. Moreover, this type of sales channel offers the possibility for people to buy at cost price while at the same time offering greater profitability benefits to farmers.

Shopping through any of these direct-to-farmer channels ensures that you consume fresher food, as it will go straight from the farm to your table. There are many reasons why buying from producers directly is a better option:

  • Food purchased through these options is fresher, more nutritious, healthier and organic.
  • By buying seasonal food you help to avoid out-of-season harvesting, which is a practice that forces the land to produce out of its natural order.
  • You boost local trade and raise awareness of the importance of farmers’ work.
  • It establishes a closer relationship between producers and consumers, which reinforces the culture of organic purchasing.
  • It is a practice that helps to avoid the consumption of food that is stored for a long time or harvested with chemicals that are harmful to health.
  • It lowers costs by reducing the involvement of intermediaries in transport, storage and other areas.

Let’s discuss:

Please share your thoughts on the following questions:

  1. How do / will you support regenerative farmers?
  2. Are you prepared to change your shopping behaviour to buy food that has been produced using farming approaches that protect soil and water quality?
  3. Take a look at the Crowdfarming website (link below). Do you think this a viable way of purchasing food and would you be willing to use such a service?
  4. Finally, we encourage you to share how you make – or plan to make – sure that the food you eat is fresher, more nutritious, healthier and organic.

As for all discussions, we see this as an open and inclusive space where everybody can share their point of view. There is not a single right answer, and different approaches can reach the logical and justified conclusion. We, therefore, invite you to be respectful of your peers and fellow learners, even when you are expressing a strongly felt opinion.

We wish you a pleasant and interesting discussion.

© EIT Food
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The Regenerative Agriculture Revolution

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