Export Study - Chapter 2: Methodology of the Study - Organic Trade Association
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Export Study - Chapter 2: Methodology of the Study


In a first step, the relevant literature on the extent and operation of organic markets in Europe and Asia was reviewed. Based on the initial review, we determined what information needed to be gathered by means of personal interview of trade experts, a Delphi Survey with a limited number of knowledgeable individuals in the field. In this context, we conducted approximately 40 telephone interviews with researchers and trade sources. The main written sources of information, as far as Europe is concerned are the study "Organic Food and Beverages: World Supply and Major European Markets", by R. Kortbech-Olesen, et. al., published by the International Trade Center in Geneva in 1999 [22], the report "Green Supply Chain Initiatives in the European Food and Retailing Industry" by N.M. Van der Grijp, N.M. and F. den Hond, 1999 [40] the report "The European Organic Foods Market 1998" by L. Comber, published in 1998 by Leatherhead Food RA, Leatherhead, UK [7], three annual comprehensive press releases on the state of organic wholesaling and retailing in Germany (Pressemitteilungen) by the Bundesverbände Naturkost Naturwaren (BNN) [2,3,4], the brochure "" published by the Organic Service Centre in Århus, Denmark, and "The Organic Food and Farming Report 1999" by the Soil Association.[35] All additional written sources are also included in the reference chapter.

There is far less documentation available on organic agriculture and the organic industry in Asia than for the European countries. For Japan, we used a variety of different sources to document the state of the organic industry as far as possible, while the main written source for Taiwan is USDA FAS’s Gain Report No. TW 0008. [38] To the best of our knowledge, this is the only significant written source of information available on Taiwan.

While access to the data on the organic industry has improved substantially within the last few years, most of the data on size and volumes of organic markets are still based on industry estimates and expert opinions. This is especially true for export data, since there are no official foreign trade statistics for organic products. Presently published numbers are mainly based on estimates by industry experts. Although this is certainly a valuable approach in the absence of hard data, it may amplify possibly inaccurate assumptions and estimates. There is a danger inherent in this situation as experts tend to know each other and therefore data, which might not be accurately reflect the current situation, could appear in many publications and be taken for granted, its validity is unquestioned.

Therefore, we determined from the start to conduct a survey either among exporters, manufacturers and ingredient suppliers of organic products or among internationally operating US organic certifiers. After an initial discussion with trade sources and representatives of organic certifiers, we decided to take the first approach. The main reason for this decision was the perceived sensitivity of the data of the certifiers, especially with regard to confidentiality issues toward their customers. Another issue was the amount of manpower needed by the certifiers to collate and convey meaningful data.

Addresses for the survey were compiled from the OTA Organic pages, The National Organic Directory published by the community Alliance of Family Farmers (CAFF), OTA’s Exporters Directory and the US Organic/Natural Promotion Directory published by the four Regional Agricultural Trade Groups. The questionnaire was sent to 525 potential organic exporters, which in our estimation covers 90 % exporters, ingredient suppliers, and manufacturers of organic goods in the United States. Of those 525, 58 returned the questionnaire, equivalent to a response rate of 11%.

We then followed up the questionnaire with more than 200 telephone calls. In a phone follow-up we were able to reach additional 185 companies. Altogether, we gathered responses of 243 companies. Of the 243 responding companies, 83 reported to be exporting, and 11 were in the process of starting to export in 2000. Of the 83 currently exporting companies, 51 were willing to disclose numbers, either via questionnaire or on the telephone, and 32 refused to disclose numbers on exports. The follow-up calls resulted in additional insights about why so many exporting companies regard their data as sensitive and confidential, especially with regard to pricing. Their reasons for not disclosing data are explained in more detail in Chapter 7, "Information Gaps". As the survey without doubt did not give a complete picture of the state of the organic industry regarding exports, we decided to interview trade sources to be able to convey a more complete picture.

In the chapters on the infrastructure of the organic market, we have not specifically differentiated between processors, packers, distributors, and wholesalers. The simple reason for this is that because of the characteristics of the organic market such a differentiation would not reflect the actual situation within the industry. Nearly all organic companies in Europe and Asia are a mixture of all the functions mentioned above, and therefore it is certainly recommendable for potential importers to contact companies on all levels of the production chain.

All numbers cited in this study are in US Dollars to alleviate reading and comparing for an US audience. However, this procedure poses a problem, as some of the data cited are in domestic currencies and exchange rates between the EURO and other major European currencies like the British Pound underwent substantial rate changes within the last two years. Therefore, in all cases where dollar amounts from earlier publications had to be converted into US Dollars, the exchange rate applied is described in a footnote.

In order to render the study useful for companies considering exporting organic products, we have added a comprehensive annex with lists of addresses of companies, government authorities, trade organizations, and others as additional sources of information.

2014 Annual Fund

Research and Promotion 2012