By Tamarind Davidson

QUALITY, rather than price, is becoming increasingly important when consumers choose which food they buy, according to an industry expert from Wye College

David Hughes, professor of food marketing and agribusiness, said price was likely to play a less significant part in purchasing decisions.

“But there will be an increasing concern for food quality, which is being driven by an ageing farming community,” he told listeners at the Royal Show on Tuesday (4 July).

Prof Hughes said the amount of disposable household income spent on food has fallen from 25% last generation to 11%. He expects it to drop to just 6% by 2010.

It was no longer enough for farmers to rely on markets which may have served them well in the past, Prof Hughes added.

Basic global commodity markets are becoming more fragmented and proving to be a less lucrative outlet for some producers.

But specialist markets, especially for niche or added-value products, are becoming more profitable because they are not under the same pressure from producers in other countries.

Commodity markets are becoming more fragmented, he said. It is these fragments that add value to the farm business as they are not under the same international pressure.

“We are not in a position to compete worldwide on commodities that are driven by price alone,” said Prof Hughes.

“Traditional and modern marketing routes, such as farmers markets, are already providing excellent opportunities for rural based businesses both large and small.”

Prof Hughes said farmers should look towards creating horizontal partnerships, forging links with businesses further along the value chain in a bid to improve their attractiveness to more potential customers.

Some businesses may also be well-placed to move even further along the chain to consider processing options or direct marketing to the public.

“We are all aware that farming has been through tough times,” said Prof Hughes.

“But there are genuine opportunities in every commodity area and it is up to the farmer to seek them out and turn them to his advantage.”