Rural SMEs ‘uniquely qualified’ to address consumer preferences

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Eu SME

European project REFRAME, which aims to support the development of rural SMEs, has been granted an extra year of funding. According to the project’s coordinator, small rural businesses are “uniquely positioned” to meet changing consumer preferences.

Project REFRAME has secured additional funding from the EU North Sea Region Programme with the ambition of building regional food chains that add to a sustainable economy with growing employment and increased innovation.

The project has been working across various locals, creating “better conditions​” for food SMEs in rural areas. It’s activities have extended to east and west Flanders in Belgium; the northern part of the Netherlands; the Oldenburg - Wesermarsch region in Germany; the Danish small islands; and in west Sweden's Göteborg region.

By recovering and setting up regional food chains REFRAME is taking steps towards creating better conditions for food related SMEs in these rural areas. This entails developing new skills for food related SMEs, fostering regional cooperation, supporting transnational learning and stimulating innovation.

The aim is to heighten the awareness about regional food supply and demand as well as nudging local governments and large-scale consumers to buy food regionally.

Shortening the supply chain

According to project coordinator Hein Braaksma, the most important impact of shortening the supply chain and developing these regional markets is to foster a “close relation​” between consumer and producer.

“It is much easier to trust the producer when the consumer can know him, visit him and see how his food is produced. This also works the other way around: it is much easier for the producer to learn from consumers and to use this to innovate​,” Braaksma told FoodNavigator.

Rural SMEs and a shorter supply chain are also well-placed to meet the evolving demands of European consumers, who are increasingly focused on sustainable and healthy products, Braaksma suggested.

“It is important to support rural, food-related SMEs because of their potential to provide employment, to safeguard the landscape, to contribute to local and rural communities. Consumer demand is changing. Consumers are more and more concerned about the climate, sustainability and health impact of their food. Rural food-related SMEs are uniquely qualified to address these concerns, to innovate and to develop food products with a more positive health, sustainability and social impact.”

Sustainable focus

The European Commission highlighted the potential positive impact of more sustainable, healthy food in its EU Reflection Paper ’Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030’. “REFRAME is one of the North Sea Region projects that works in this direction,” the project’s chief explained.

The impact that food and food production has on the climate calls for an increased focus on sustainability, claims REFRAME, and this will be reflected in its future priorities.

“Sustainability has always been an integrated part of the project as we focus on short supply-chains and regional production, however, now we will also focus on the potential for sustainable, healthy food alternatives from the region,​” Braaksma explained.

New possibilities, which the project partners of REFRAME want to explore include creating data about regional, sustainable alternative food options, identifying potential changing demands as well as identifying the possibilities to produce for a changing demand.

The REFRAME project has been running since January 2016 where 14 committed partners from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden respectively are working together to create better conditions for food related SMEs in rural areas.

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