Maltese agriculture is facing an existential challenge. Unless local farmers and small food producers can find a niche market to sell their products, they will continue to face massive competition from mass-produced food products that flood every free market.

MEP candidate Peter Agius argues that the future existence of the small agricultural and food processing industry in Malta could lie in finding a niche market where to sell locally produced food items using the protected designation of origin (PDO) and protected geographic indication (PGI) labels promoted under various EU schemes. 

It is worrying that after 15 years of EU membership, Malta has still to register its first product under these schemes. Countries like Italy have made good use of this corporate branding that adds value to locally grown food products.

Farmers and small local food processors cannot realistically make the marketing effort to obtain the PDO and PGI certification to enable them to tap a niche market for locally produced food products. They need the support of the government to deal with the certification and marketing process successfully.

A professional web marketing platform is one critical success factor to launch Maltese agricultural products in the international market.  

A government-sponsored and financed web marketing entity could support local food producers in planning and implementing direct email marketing campaigns that create interest in products and services offered by them. 

The objective of such an organisation should be the consolidation of the corporate PDO and PGI brand and the generation of contacts that turn into “leads” that can then be managed directly by food producers. Communication effectiveness is essential if such marketing efforts are to succeed. 

A user-friendly website promoting locally produced products will help create empathy with potential clients who are demanding but also prepared to pay a premium price for premium products. 

As in any marketing communication, it is essential to have high-quality text as well as attractive graphics and visual impact to capture clients’ interest. This tool can be made even more effective through the use of social media to build a brand reputation that will then lead to increased sales of marketed products.

Do-it-yourself efforts by individual food-producing entities are unlikely to succeed. Consumers use smartphones, tablets and PCs to find what they need or want. The entry barrier to global e-commerce may be high, but the rewards are substantial. 

Today even small producers of goods and services can sell their products internationally once they promote themselves effectively by digital means. 

It is crucial that farmers and local food producers understand the advantage of pooling their products in order to justify the marketing effort and expense needed to promote locally produced food products. 

They also need to keep ownership of the marketing effort even if this venture is ultimately financed by the government and managed by specialists in electronic marketing. 

This project is a tough challenge but one worth facing as it can save the small agriculture and food-producing sector from extinction. The EU strategy has always been to promote support for small and micro business as these are at the heart of every community. 

It is the right time to eliminate the inertia in the exploitation of niche marketing tools that are supported by EU schemes aimed at promoting the excellence of locally produced food products.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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