Ana Knezevic, president of Unija potrosaca Hrvatske (UPH), said support from BEUC will make shoppers lives in Croatia better and both groups will fight at EU level for more consumer rights.
CAC/UPH is made up of two well-established consumer organisations, Potrosac and SUZP (Savez udruga za zastitu potrosaca), which joined in 2018 after a BEUC pilot project to strengthen what is described as a “weak” consumer movement in the country.
Croatian market and consumer role
Most consumers do not know their rights and those who recognise them do not know how to use them, said Knezevic.
“The main problem of Croatian consumers is a very low level of information and education about their rights and the consequence of that is a very low level of membership in consumers associations,” she told FoodNavigator.
“The next problem is huge regulation in this area which is changed often and it is very difficult for the average consumer to follow all that regulation and its changes. Very often consumers ask for help when it is too late to do something.”
Knezevic said the market is a mixed one as it has several big companies and many small firms including some big exporters.
Agrokor is one of the largest retail chains and has its own production capacities. The Atlantic Group, Podravka and Kraš are large companies under private ownership.
Compared to other areas of the manufacturing industry, the food and beverage sector achieves the highest total revenue and employs the most people, according to the Agency for Investments and Competitiveness in the country.
The food industry has attracted foreign investment and international companies are operating in Croatia like Axereal, Coca-Cola and Lactalis.
Potential for domestic production
Knezevic said the market is mostly import orientated but there is potential for domestic production.
“Croatia has ideal conditions for producing all kind of food – fertile soil, riches of water, many days of sunshine, but we are not able to produce enough food, so we have to import it.
“Food is also locally produced, but producers are not organised in cooperatives, their food is very expensive, and quantity is sufficient only for their families. Some of that food they sell to local people. Locally produced food is very good and of very high quality.”
Since 1995, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has invested more than €620m in Croatia’s agribusiness sector.
EBRD and FAO also supported development and registration of Croatia’s first two Geographic Indications at European Union level, including one for mandarins from the Neretva Valley and sausage from Slavonia.
Strong tourism sector could provide opportunities
Knezevic said the country is strongest in tourism.
“There is a very old idea in Croatia to join the blue and green sea which means our aim to produce enough food on our green fields to supply all tourists from the Adriatic Sea and we hope we will catch up one day.”
Vedrana Jelušić Kašić, EBRD director for Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and the Slovak Republic, previously said growth of tourism could provide opportunities for local fruit and vegetable producers.
“Tourists are drawn to traditional foods and good-quality products unique to an area, which can be a huge boost for rural economies and help smaller producers enter new markets.”
Knezevic said Croatia was a major food exporter to neighbouring countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro) before it entered the EU in July 2013.
“With our entering into the EU, common market conditions for exporting to non-EU countries changed. Which means that goods became more expensive due to the customs and taxes, so our export to those countries declined and it cannot be supplemented with export to EU countries. At the same time our market became open for all goods from the EU.”
Other issues include dual quality food, especially at the end of last year when research with the Croatian Food Agency showed products on the domestic market were not the same quality as those in Western European countries.
“We hope that in the next few years Croatia will have higher economic growth, more domestic products and better quality of imported products. We also hope that BEUC will help us to strengthen our movement to be able to recruit more members, to have more experts and so become a respectable partner to our government and benefit Croatian consumers,” added Knezevic.