What will the new Basque Agri-Food industry look like?

It is popular belief that ‘we are what we eat’. Likewise, fine food and cuisine have a reputation for excellence and quality in Basque culture. The lesser known side of this reputation, though, is that the Basque agri-food industry is in fact a key pillar of economic growth: It represents 7 percent of Industrial value and the companies in this sector make up 11 percent of all Basque companies, but it is also quite an atomized sector: only 1% of these companies have over 100 employees.

Quality and the recognition of Basque consumers are established fundamental values, but are these pillars enough for the continued competitiveness of the sector? Experts in the field agree on three essential challenges to competitiveness: gaining better knowledge of the consumer; innovating in products, processes and business models; and changing mindsets in order to explore new markets and new commercialisation channels. Consequently, there are three key questions which need to be addressed: how we behave; what we consume; and where our consumers are.

Firstly, what are we like as consumers? Seemingly, we are enormously impulsive. Close to 90% of our purchases are not thought through. According to discoveries in neuromarketing, we respond to impulses ruled by emotion, the senses (and not just sight), memories, and imitation, or even superstition. Additionally, some researchers have found that it takes a mere 2.5 seconds to take a purchasing decision. How much time, then, do Basque companies spend on understanding the subconscious wishes and longings of their clients?

Secondly, what do we consume? The range, variety and innovativeness of food products on the market are growing by the day; but, as a result, competition is also much tougher: 52% of brands and 80% of all new products fail within the first three months of appearing on the market. From the primary sector to the agri-food industry, Basque companies base their approach on the attributes of quality, authenticity, origin, naturalness, or purported health benefits when advertising their product; but this is just not enough. The challenge, therefore, lies in the systematic search for opportunities to bring more value to the product by means of personalisation, the specialisation into specific segments, or continuous updating of business models and increasingly innovative thinking.

Finally, where are our consumers? The paradigm shift for the great majority of our agri-food SME’s resides in marketing abroad: exploring new markets; adapting their products to their needs and incorporating new channels of commercialisation. Internet sales has substantially modified many business models, as well as that of the agri-food sector, making it an area of critical development, as borne out by the fact that in the USA today more food is sold online than in actual stores.

It is time now to sow the seed to give birth to a competitive and capable agri-food industry using the best of our knowledge, and of course, our good taste.

Oscar Valdivielso

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