ANALYSIS OF REGIONAL
FOOD SECTORS 


 

Six regions from six different countries cooperate in the FRIDGE project. To gain a better understanding, the characteristics of each region’s food sector were analysed in the Analysis of Regional Food Industries study. The comparison of the studies shows that despite the unique features, there are many common factors that define food industry and how food SMEs operate in these regions. In the following, we display the distinctive aspects of each region.

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Tolna County, Hungary
Tolna (Hungary; 3,706 km2; 219,000 inhabitants) – located on the bank of the Danube River, has long agricultural traditions. This is one of the smallest counties in Hungary, both in size and population. Crucial products of the local food industry are wheat, corn, flour mill products, breadstuff, wine, meat, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. The majority of regional producers are micro-, small, and medium-sized businesses. According to national data, they produce only 30 % of the food industry production value, with the other 70 % dominated by big foreign-owned companies.

Considering recent events in the food industry (like the global pandemic), the most important goal for the region is to promote healthy, reliable local food to support our economy and our producers. Tolna County has all the makings to provide that, but cooperation needs to be extended to all relevant actors. Not only that, the region needs to support their SMEs to reach new markets and to develop themselves, which is something the region is still struggling with.

Harghita County, Romania
Harghita (Romania; 6,639 km²; 304,969 inhabitants) – A mountainous region in central Romania known for its local specialities, such as honey, jams, syrups, and brandy, as well as for its picturesque landscapes and its unique traditional lifestyle. 

Harghita County joined the FRIDGE project to learn from the best and support local producers. It is a mostly rural area and its economy is in most part based on agriculture. Harghita County’s food industry is not extensively developed yet in order to have export capacity, but it surely represents an example of sustainable food policy on a local level.

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Upper Franconia, Germany
Upper Franconia (Bavaria, Germany; 7,230.19 km2; 1,067,482 inhabitants) is a governmental district in Bavaria, especially known for its centuries-long traditions in bakery and confectionery products as well as meat products. This region has the highest density of bakeries, confectioneries, butchers, and breweries per capita in the world! The food industry in Upper Franconia is very well developed and of a significant size – 20 % of the total food produced in Germany comes from Bavaria, and almost 25 % of businesses in Upper Franconia are in the food industry. 

Despite good level of development, the Food SMEs in the region also face challenges. Effects of climate change have been seen in the region as extreme weather conditions have caused problems with harvests earnings and rising raw material prices. The aging population is also causing difficulties for traditional food SMEs with lack of workforce as well as challenges in finding new entrepreneurs to run the traditional businesses. There is thus a need to improve the risk and crisis management structures and enhance collaboration between the small Food SMEs to find a better competitive edge in the markets. 

South Ostrobothnia, Finland

South Ostrobothnia (Finland; 13,999.63 km2; 188,685 inhabitants) is the largest by area of all project partners. Fertile plains with numerous rivers made this region perfect for farming, which lead to its high importance for Finnish food production & processing industries (over 15 % of country’s food production comes from the region) as good quality farming land is scarce in Finland. Bakery products, meat, dairy, beverages, berries and vegetables are the main local products. Few major food and drink companies in Finland are located here, however, most of the companies are micro or small enterprises. 
Due to a very small size, many of the Food SMEs in South Ostrobothnia lack resources, knowledge and ability to improve their productivity as well as develop and grow their businesses strategically. On a wider scale, all the food competence and know-how that lies in the region’s RDI-sector should be better utilised for the use of SMEs.

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OLLI HIETAKANGAS 10/2019

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Western Macedonia, Greece
Western Macedonia (Greece; 9,451 km2; 283,689 inhabitants) is a mountainous and foothill land in western Greece, where continental climate and specific terrain conditions dictated what food and drinks can be made here. Wine, tsipouro (alcoholic beverage) and Krokos Kozanis (Greek Saffron) are local specialities. The food industry consists here almost exclusively of micro and small enterprises. It is not surprising then that only 2,44 % of the entire region’s workforce works in this sector. 

Western Macedonia, Greece has some food producers that manufacture products of high quality & nutritional value, often certified as organic. These enterprises that rely on traditional long-time experience and quality raw materials face the challenges of globalization by applying modern marketing methods to scale up.

East-Flanders, Belgium
East-Flanders (Belgium; 3,007 km2; 1,515,064 inhabitants) is a rather small but densely populated and agriculturally fertile region. The food industry has a very strong position in this region, as it is the second biggest sector in terms of absolute value and employment. East-Flemish food sector represents 22.6 % of the Belgian food sector turnover and 26.6 % of export. Chocolate, confectionery products, dairy, beverages and meat are the main regional products. 

The support and promotion of local producers and food SMEs is one of the strengths of  the Economic Council of East-Flanders (ECEF). But there is a need for a new branding of local products based on (sustainable) storytelling. An additional challenge is that product and process innovation evolve rather slowly and hardly focuses on sustainability. The market is also changing. There is the influence of Brexit, climate change and the pandemic. Together with the new and evolving customer needs and the mismatch of research with real market needs, these are important challenges for the food sector in East Flanders/Belgium.

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COMMON CHARACTERISTICS

Each of the partner regions have distinctive strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities that they are facing, but common characteristics could be found in the reports. 

Some of the found common characteristics were:

  • Importance for the Economy. Food production and agriculture in the Partner Regions play an important role in the regional and some cases in national economy. This is supported by public policies, see the next chapter for more details.

  • Size and markets. Majority of the companies are micro and small enterprises, whose products address mainly to local and regional markets, and exporting hardly exists. 

  • The main distribution channels are retail and wholesale trade, local markets and supermarkets, e-Commerce & online sales, direct sales (from producer to consumer), fairs & events (local, national, international) and agrotourism. 

  • Strengths. Strong and diverse local traditions, quality raw-materials and rather active RDI-support systems are reported as strengths in most regions. 

  • Challenges and needs. The SMEs face a number of similar challenges and need diverse support in order to strengthen their capacities. For most regions the main problems impacting the condition of food and drink SMEs are aging society and brain drain. Many regions also report low-level of RDI-investments hindering growth.You can read more about these challenges in the chapter on the SME survey results.

Further info