THE GREEK AGRIFOOD SECTOR: “BACK TO THE FUTURE” STRATEGY FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW FOODS
The importance of the agrifood sector can be evidenced by the fact that it employs approximately 25 per cent of the national workforce, with the slowdown in growth in the last three years due to the severe economic national crisis.
The first systematic study on the Greek food chain management has been conducted and published recently in 20121. A survey was conducted with 1,121 companies representing four Greek food sectors and each tier of the chain, namely dairy, fruit, meat and vegetables. In the empirical work, the following members/stages of the Greek food chain were examined: breeders/growers/grower associations, manufacturers, wholesalers/importers/exporters, retailers and catering firms.
The research examined the perceived value outcomes for members of the Greek food chain and revealed the key differences between each of the chain members. Specifically, primary members (breeders/growers/grower’s associations) are the weak link in the Greek food chain as poor results were evident for most value outcomes. The reason for this is complicated, and with many factors involved. Some of them include: the small agricultural areas owned by each farmer which causes high cost of production, the low educational level of the farmers, which prohibits them from the use of innovations and new technologies, and the dependence on European Union subsidies and similar government support etc.
The Greek food chain requires significant development and improvement before becoming a “best value chain”. Currently, it still has many characteristics of a traditional chain as it focuses on responding well to prearranged issues but lacks the flexibility to deliver beyond expectations. In order to tackle these major drawbacks and transform the Greek Food chain to a best value chain, a common vision which can lead to a realistic, focused strategic development compromised with various action plans which will be implemented by the various actors is primarily required. The Greek food chain can be a key element in the Greek innovation ecosystem, helping Greece to turn to an innovative agro-food member of the European Union.
To this end the Greek food chain management will have to take a holistic view, identifying the pathway to commercialize deployment of research, and innovation, provide strategic insights into the market opportunities and need, and mobilize the chain’s innovation actors across the nation in order to enable Greek companies, and their products to gain a competitive advantage in the global markets. This will be materialized with the production of new, unique, innovative, Greek food products, of Mediterranean origin, attractive to the global market, with significant added value, and prospect for wide production. The vision is:
NEW, INNOVATIVE, GREEK FOOD
PRODUCTS: FROM FARM TO FORK with “BACK TO THE FUTURE” origin.
The products under consideration (to fork) will be produced by Greek raw agro materials (from farm) which have not been utilized systematically in the last 30 years of the “fake” economic growth, but were used in the past centuries as primary dietary resource (raw materials or foods themselves) of low cost for the feeding of the nations’ low and middle class (part of their Mediterranean food). The revitalization of these products is the vision by this working group, ant the proposed moto for that purpose: products with “BACK TO THE FUTURE” origin2. The strategic objective is old products, re-produced under new, modern, technological conditions and promoting them as “new” products to the global market. In every Greek region there were such traditional, unique agro-products, and foods made by them, which are now days even forgotten, or produced in very small scale for family use only. Such products include unique species of legumes, cereals, vegetables, aromatic herbs and other most of which have been part of the traditional Mediterranean diet. Most of them are produced from local varieties/landraces, a feature that should strongly be emphasized, since it dictates the uniqueness of the origin.
Over the last 8 years a pilot project, using the above mentioned strategy is utilized at the island of Lemnos (North Aegean) by the Department of Food Science & Nutrition of the University of The Aegean towards the development and growth of new, innovative food products. This effort, bringing together local partners such as farmers, traders, manufacturers, distributors and retailers has already developed a number of new (old) foods generating significant local income. Some of the products already in the market are:
. A traditional legume puree: A legume puree named “afkos” is produced from seeds of Lathyrus ochrus (L.) and promoted in the local and national markets. This was a local traditional food until the ‘70s, used for centuries as main weekly meal.
. Traditional bread: A new, innovative bread name “mavragani” is produced by the wheat Mavragani of Lemnos and promoted in the local market. This wheat was one of the local wheats produced locally, and sold throughout the Mediterranean until the ‘70s.
. Two semi-sparkle wines: Two semi-sparkle wines are produced from the local grapes of Moschat of Alexandria and promoted in the local and national markets. These products were produced by a local winery until the ‘70s.
New products are in the pipeline of production, together with an effort to transfer the model to other islands too developing thus a national, novel innovation process in agrifood with realistic, tangible results and growth for the Greek island and beyond3.
by Dimitris Skalkos
Associate Professor in Food Business Management
Department of Food Science & Nutrition
University of The Aegean
1 «Creating a “Best value support chain” Empirical evidence from the Greek food chain» Bourlakis M., Maglaras G., Fotopoulos C., The International Journal of Logistics Management, 23(3), 360-382, 2012
2 «Innovative agrifood supply chain network: Leading to traditional, “back to the future” foods» P.C. Sakali, D. Skalkos, Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management, 11(2), 20-31, 2016
3 «A Novel Innovation Management Process: For applications in fields such as Food Innovation» D. Skalkos, International Journal of Innovation Science, 4(4), 245-258, 2012.