Which kind of innovation do the dairy supply chain want?

An innovative transnational study was developed in organic and low input dairy supply chain, involving 99 participants from 4 European countries (Belgium, Finland Italy and UK).

By Raffaele Zanoli , Serena Mandolesi , Simona Naspetti, Università Politecnica delle Marche and Pip Nicholas,  Aberystwyth University, WP5

The intent of our research was to identify which kind of innovation supply chain members would like to see in organic and low-input dairy farming. The survey took place in the four EU countries between March and July 2012. A total amount of 99 supply chain members participated in the survey. Focus groups or personal interviews were organised to collect the data. The Q methodology (Stephenson, 1935) applied in this survey allows for a small amount of people to be interviewed and is particularly useful in investigating the perspectives and attitudes of participants towards innovations.

Respondents wereasked to rank a set of items or statements about innovations in the dairy system according to a specific condition of instruction. By cross comparing and placing the statements in a grid, they revealed their own patterns of subjectivity. Innovations included in the survey belong to distinctive categories: breeds, feeds, management and practice on farm and in the supply chain.  Some interviews were used to gather more information on the reasoning
behind the Q sorts made.

Figure 1. Q sorting score sheet.
Figure 1. Q sorting score sheet.

Great degree of consensus
The results shows that there was consensus across all participants within the supply chain to which innovations were deemed to be unacceptable in the organic (from an ethical and/or regulatory perspective) and low-input dairy systems such as transgenic animals, speed-up calve development or in vitro recombination. Supply chain members, being primarily individuals and dairy consumers, strongly reject innovations related to the
application of biotechnology or innovation perceived as conflicting with the naturalness of the production. Innovations that individuals perceive as presently unfamiliar or containing uncertainty or unknown risks are refused (Grunert et al., 2011).

But there are many differences between supply chain members regarding which innovations they favour. Both farmers, retailers & processors appreciate the role of
soil biodiversity in relation to sustainability. Farming and breeding practices maintaining the biodiversity are of utmost importance for food production, health and the maintenance of ecosystems (Thrupp, 2000). On the other side, consumers and retailers & processors assign great importance to innovations related to the feeding quality.

The type of feeding – animal-feed composition – and the presence of genetically modified ingredients significantly affect their perceived quality of the product (Naspetti et al., 2012).

Increased concern
Consumers tend to accept innovations aiming to improve animal welfare (e.g.: maternal feeding, inside housing, and herbs in pastures) and innovations with low levels of interference with any natural processes (genetic manipulation, speeding up animal maturity, etc.). Consumer concern regarding food processing has increased during the
last years in most European countries due to food scares.

But conveying innovations improving animal welfare can be difficult and could increase on-farm production costs. Producers, retailers and processors prefer those innovations related to feed quality, efficiency and soil management. To them the feeding quality and the efficiency of resources used are important; they particularly value innovations
minimizing the use of purchase feeds through a better use of home-grown feeds and new forage varieties and continously improvement of the input quality.

Consumers, retailers and processors like innovations aimed at improving efficiency in the short supply chain. Milk from small local producers is considered to be cheaper but also of higher quality to reduce distances between point of sales and consumers (Grunert and Trail, 1997). Innovations in the dairy system should include solutions that can improve animal welfare, value of feeding, relationships with consumers – by better products and efficient, short supply chain – biodiversity and management of soil; and reducing the use of GMO solutions are also considered important aspects.

These findings will form the basis for further research aimed at providing pathways of changes and valuable opportunity for innovations to be introduced in the dairy system. The results of the present study will be used to focus on the next steps of the SOLID project, where we are going to assess the acceptability of novel production strategies by consumers and supply chain members.


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Naspetti S., Alberti F., Solfanelli F., 2012. Quality determinants in the organic cheese supply chain: a Quality Function Deployment approach. New Medit, Vol. XI – n. 4/2012.
Thrupp L.A, 2000. Linking Agricultural Biodiversity and Food Security: the Valuable Role of Agrobiodiversity for Sustainable Agriculture. International Affairs, 76 (2), 265-281.