Will Czechs go organic?


Organic foodstuffs are expected to make a big breakthrough onto the Czech market in the next five years. In 2005, Czechs spent a total of 350 million crowns ($15.9 million US) on organic products, and according to estimates, that number could reach 1.3 billion crowns (nearly $59 million US) by 2011. So what are the challenges for organic producers operating in what is essentially a new market?

According to a recent Agricultural Ministry survey, a mere three percent of Czech consumers regularly buy products with a bio label. At the other end of the scale, nearly 50 percent of Czechs are not at all familiar with organic products. Most of those polled cite the popularity of traditional brands and the considerably higher prices of organic goods as reasons for staying away from the new organic trend.

Still, according to the Green Marketing agency run by Tom Vaclavik, the Czech market could see a growth of up to 40 percent per year over the next five years. As it stands, statistics show that organic products account for less than one percent of total food consumption in the Czech Republic. Facing an essentially virgin market, organic producers and marketing agencies must still convince Czechs that paying more for organic products is a worthwhile investment. Tom Vaclavik explains how his agency intends to promote organic products in an upcoming campaign:

"We will specifically concentrate on young women and women with children. We will try to convince them that organic food is good for their health, for the health of their children, and that it's good for the environment. We will use the media, television, newspapers, and magazines to get the message across."

Since the prices of organic foods in the Czech Republic are currently 40 to 350 percent higher than those of conventional products, the pro-organic campaign faces a definite challenge. So are there any successful home-grown companies dealing in organic products in the Czech Republic? Tom Vaclavik again:

"Yes, there are a few. I can for example speak about a company that is producing organic beef. They have large farms and they are supplying organic beef to most of the Czech supermarket chains. There is a very successful organic herb tea producer. There are several organic cheese and milk processors and producers, mostly marketing their products locally. There are of course a few examples of companies - or better to say organic farms - that are producing organic vegetables and fruits."

And how does the Czech Republic compare to other central European states when it comes to organic production and consumption? Tom Vaclavik explains:

"The Czech organic market is probably the most developed. If we look at the retail level, the Czech organic food market is definitely the most developed. The Polish organic food market is probably bigger, but of course they have almost four times the number of citizens. In Hungary the market is smaller, but their organic processing industry is much more developed because they started much earlier, and they have been very good at marketing abroad. On the other hand, the Hungarian organic producers are exporting 95% of their products, maybe even more, to Western Europe. Unlike in the Czech Republic where most of the local production is sold domestically."