Seeking patriotic buyers in Slovakia


(30.01.2012; The Slovak Spectator; č. 4, s. 6, 9; Liptáková Jana)

Campaigns encourage Slovaks to buy locally made products

THE SHARE of Slovak food products offered on the shelves of retail chains' shops is about 50 percent, a smaller proportion than in many other countries, say several experts. They add that this particularly low share of domestic foodstuffs on retailers' shelves has a negative impact on the Slovak economy by reducing employment and increasing the country's dependence on imports. The declared preference of Slovak consumers for domestic products, even if they have higher prices, provides optimism that sales of domestically produced goods could increase. Producers and retailers, as well as the government, hope that various promotional and educational campaigns will help make that happen.
"The current share of local [domestic] food is very low, even much lower than in neighbouring countries that are also `new' members of the European Union, where the share is about 15 to 20 percentage points higher," Dušan Janíček, deputy chair of the Slovak Agricultural and Food Chamber (SPPK), told The Slovak Spectator. "The latest surveys by SPPK show that the physical presence of domestic foodstuffs in the offer of retail chains operating in Slovakia is hovering around 50 percent, while the figure in western Europe is 80 percent and higher."
Janíček said Slovak consumers do not show as much "patriotism when shopping" as citizens of western Europe or the USA do, adding another worrisome note that retailers have already begun to see is that Slovak consumers are becoming more price sensitive because of the worsening economic situation and that they are more often ignoring a product's country of origin when shopping.
"This is linked not only to the lower purchasing power [of Slovaks] but also to a lack of consumer patriotism that was never built in Slovakia," Janíček told The Slovak Spectator. "On the contrary, before Slovakia entered the European Union in 2004, many representatives of the country listed the opening of the internal market for importation of EU goods, which Slovaks could previously only buy when abroad, as one of the advantages of Slovakia's integration into the EU."
According to Janíček, SPPK pointed out the danger of that position before accession but nobody was really listening during the pre entry euphoria.
"Now we are collecting the negative `fruits' of these approaches and suddenly those politicians who did not even want to hear about this issue at that time are now speaking about the need to increase sales of local production," Janíček stated.
A declared preference for Slovak products
Based on surveys conducted by GFK Slovensko last year, Slovak consumers have a strong interest in purchasing domestic products but it is questionable whether they actually reach for those products when shopping. According to Bohumila Tauchmannová, the secretary general of the Slovak Association of Commerce and Tourism (ZOCR), several factors influence the final decision of consumers, things such as price, quality, marketing, personal shopping habits and others.
This is why producers and retailers as well as the government view promotional activities to increase Slovak consumers' awareness of domestic products as an important step in increasing sales of Slovak sourced goods.
One of the priorities of the Ministry of Agriculture and its head, Zsolt Simon, is to increase the domestic share of safe, high quality foods available in the Slovak retail market.
"It is necessary to keep a feeling of patriotism in people towards purchasing domestic, quality products," Juraj Kadáš from the press department of the Ministry of Agriculture told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the Quality Label SK, a programme to label domestic agricultural and food products, serves as an effective tool in building a competitive feeling in domestic producers, helping them to get established in both the Slovak market and foreign markets.
The Quality Label SK was launched in 2004 and over 350 products have received this designation to date.
Under this programme, products with a higher quality compared to similar products in the market can be designated to use the label for a three year period, with the possibility of extension. To qualify for the label, the entire production process must be in Slovakia and at least 75 percent of the product's raw materials must originate in Slovakia. There is no cost to a company for receiving the designation or using the label.
"In contrast to other parallel projects, the Quality Label SK is unique because of its longer presence and the number of producers and products that have received it since 2004, as well as the fact that getting the label does not cost a producer even a cent," Kadáš told The Slovak Spectator.
Another promotional programme that seeks to improve Slovak consumers' awareness of domestic products is called Quality from Our Regions, sponsored by ZOCR. It is an educational effort focused on food as well as non food products and services with a domestic origin.
"This is a marketing project able to respond flexibly to the development of society and Slovakia's market," ZOCR's Tauchmannová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that both retailers and producers are participating. "Its main mission is to explain to consumers why it is important for them to buy local products and what impact this will have on increasing their quality of life."
The programme dates back to 2009 when a campaign called `Let's shop at home' was targeted at reducing cross border shopping in neighbouring countries. A survey conducted by GFK Slovensko found that so called shopping tourism decreased by 9 percent during the campaign, according to Tauchmannová. She regards last summer's edition of the Quality from Our Regions campaign to be very successful as another GFK Slovensko survey found that as many as 72 percent of the respondents reacted positively to the campaign's theme of locally sourced products.
SPPK values all the efforts invested into the various campaigns that support purchase of domestic products, Janíček said.
But he added that so far none has managed to send Slovak consumers a strong enough message that has been mirrored in an increase in sales of Slovak produced foodstuffs. The chamber believes it is necessary to unite what it calls "atomised initiatives" into one longterm campaign and it has already prepared some proposals to accomplish that.
Ľubomír Drahovský, an analyst with the TERNO market research agency, believes that campaigns to increase awareness among Slovak consumers are very important and that Slovaks are responsive to them, but that it takes a longer time for the message to be incorporated into their shopping behaviour. He also noted that for Slovaks to become more "patriotic" shoppers, their purchasing power should be higher and domestic products should be price competitive with imported items.
Drahovský added that French and Austrian consumers are very aware of the importance of buying domestic products but noted that the campaigns in those countries have been ongoing for many years and have been backed by excellent promotional methods, something he said has been lacking in Slovakia.
"It is very important that these campaigns and their actual outcomes are carefully assessed when they end so that others can learn from the mistakes or continue the parts that were successful," Drahovský told The Slovak Spectator.