The food “quality turn” in South Africa: An initial exploration of its implications for small-scale farmers
Author: Estelle Biénabe, Hester Vermeulen and Cerkia Bramley
Publication: Agrekon, vol 50, no. 1, 36-52
This article analyses the way the general turn from mass consumption to the increased qualitative differentiation of products – the “quality turn” – manifests in the South African agro-food system and explores its implications in terms of market access conditions for small-scale farmers in particular. While most retailers’ food quality positioning is in line with consumer trends, based on conventional price-orientated strategies, the retail sector has been entering and driving quality related niche markets and is even proactively re-establishing the demand for products, such as in the case of Karoo lamb. As illustrated by the organic case, alternative quality trends provide an opportunity for value addition that could potentially lead to considerable price premiums and growth. This potential has, however, been left largely untapped by local suppliers. The article shows that the main vehicle for the institutionalisation of quality in South Africa has been the establishment of new certification schemes which are largely driven by the dominant retail sector. This sector captures most of the consumer purchasing power and sets the rules governing the system. Based on this analysis, the article then explores the implications of new food quality trends and the dominant role of the retail sector in small-scale farmers’ market access.