BUY LOCAL

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German apples for German consumers. Source: Argus
German apples for German consumers.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany has no uniform standards for labeling or advertising regional food products. Critics say deception is common.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • One reason for the local food boom is a growing awareness of how sustainability contributes to local economies and the environment.
    • Öko-Test consumer magazine found only 26 of 106 products labeled as local to be “flawlessly local.”
    • Last year, food sales in Germany were €164 billion.
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    Audio

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In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, more than 80 percent of consumers buy locally produced foods several times a month, according to an A.T. Kearney study on strategic and operational issues facing businesses, governments and institutions around the globe. Two in every three people buy local food at least once a week.

The consultancy expect sales of local food products to rise by one-third over the last year.

One reason for the local food boom is a growing awareness of how sustainability contributes to local economies and the environment. “At the moment, regional foods are at least as popular as organic products, if not more so,” said Mirko Warschun, a consultant with A.T. Kearney.

Last year, food sales in Germany were €164 billion ($209 billion). While the share of organic products was about 4 percent, local food sales varied widely, largely because the country has no uniform standards for these products.

While the share of organic products was about 4 percent, the share of local food sales varied widely.

For the majority of Germans surveyed for the study, “regional origin” means a product is grown and processed within 100 kilometers, or about 60 miles. But that definition is often not the one used by producers and merchants. While some of them narrow down the radius to 30 kilometers, others expand it all the way to the borders of Germany.

For sure, there is much deception about what is actually “local,” as a recent investigation by the German consumer magazine, Öko-Test, has shown. The magazine surveyed products advertised with words such as “region,” “homeland” or “German states.”  It found only 26 of the 106 products it researched to be “flawlessly local.” That meant the raw foodstuffs came from the indicated region, the products were processed or packaged there, and they are marketed only there.

Official seals such as the “Regional Window,” launched earlier this year as an initiative of the ministry for food and agriculture, aim to ensure transparency in food-source labeling.

Its blue-and-white label provides information about the origin of agricultural ingredients, the processing site and, optionally, the preceding agricultural stages. It has been introduced by a number of supermarket chains, including Südwest, Rewe, Tegut and Lidl. More than 2,400 products are currently registered.

In general, domestic producers and merchants could profit more from the local food boom - if they were less expensive and offerings were greater.

But there is criticism. “The widespread deception on regional products in supermarkets will not end with a purely voluntary seal,”  Foodwatch, a non-profit food industry watchdog, said in a statement. According to the consumer organization, producers still sell non-local food as local with shady advertising.

The regulations for Regional Window are “lax,” according to Öko-Test. The magazine noted that the food industry had a big hand in developing the program, together with consumer associations and the German states.

How to know what a local product is without a proper definition can be a struggle, but there are ways to get around this hurdle, according to Mr. Warschun.

“In Germany, regional foods are sold mostly at farmers’ markets, at organic farms themselves, or through subscription baskets,” he said. These outlets offer a high degree of trust, followed by local grocery stores.

Domestic producers and merchants could benefit more from the local food boom, according to Mr. Warschun. But the products would need to be less expensive and in a larger range, not to mention greater information about their origin.

 

Kirsten Ludowig has a degree in economics and reports for Handelsblatt on companies and markets, with specific focus on the trade and retail sectors. To contact the author: ludowig@handelsblatt.com

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