How regional quality labels and initiatives can make regional enjoyment and local consumption a matter of course
More than ever, the slogans “support local” or “shop small” popped up during the Corona pandemic. On Instagram, there is even a feature labeled “support small business” that enables users to link to a local business and share it in their story. Yet, the issue of regionalism is by no means new. According to a survey by the Forsa Institute, two-thirds of consumers always or usually pay attention to the origin of food when shopping. The regional reference and proximity to the producer provide security and create trust in regional products, in their freshness, quality and authenticity – much more than in industrial mass-produced goods. Shorter transport routes guarantee not only freshness, but also significantly less climate-damaging CO2. And seasonality also plays a role in this context: domestic apples, the Germans’ favorite fruit, may be available outside the apple season – in spring or early summer – but these apples have been stored in warehouses for a long time, so their carbon footprint is even greater in comparison than that of apples imported from abroad. In addition, about 40% of harvested fruits and vegetables do not even make it to supermarket shelves or farmer’s markets because crooked cucumbers, pears that are too small, or heart-shaped potatoes are sorted out before consumers even see them (NABU; Entega).
However, consumers are willing to pay higher prices for regionality, seasonality and the associated benefits, but they are misled by slogans like “From the Region.” Unlike “organic” or “ecological,” “regional” is not a legally protected term. Each supplier sets its own rules, so the definition varies (NABU).
aware_ has taken a close look at some regional labels and initiatives that make regional enjoyment and local consumption a no-brainer.
Around 5,500 food products, flowers and plants throughout Germany carry the voluntary declaration field Regionalfenster. The regional label introduced by the German government provides consumers with information on where a product’s main ingredients come from, where it was processed or packaged, the proportion of regional ingredients and which inspection body checked it. The aim is to make it easier to recognize regional products and buy them more consciously. The first main component on the list of ingredients, as well as all value-adding ingredients, must come 100% from the specified region; at the same time, regional ingredients must account for at least 51% of the product’s total weight. However, the Regionalfenster does not provide a binding definition of “region” either, but leaves it up to the manufacturers how they interpret the term. However, the region must be smaller than the size of Germany. The product-specific claims made in the Regionalfenster are regularly checked and validated at all stages of the value chain by the company’s own control and assurance system (NABU; Regionalfenster; Utopia).
To protect and promote traditional and regional foods, three food labels were introduced by the EU in 1992 to protect geographical indications and traditional specialties guaranteed in agricultural products and foods by EU law. A distinction is made between three labels: the geographical indications “PDO” (protected designation of origin) and “PGI” (protected geographical indication), and the “TSG” (traditional speciality guaranteed). With the EU label “protected designation of origin”, PDO for short, food must be produced, processed, and manufactured in the defined area according to certain criteria. All production steps must therefore take place in the area in question. An example of this is Allgäu mountain cheese.
The label “PGI” means that only one of the production steps – i.e., production, processing, or preparation – must have taken place in the area of origin. The raw material used for production can therefore originate from another region. An example: Swabian spaetzle.
The label “TSG” only indicates the traditional composition of the product or a traditional production and/or processing method. The production method is not linked to a region. An example of this is hay milk.
The embossed numerical code (e.g., 0-DE-0500081) on the shell of an egg reveals where it comes from: A “0” in the first position indicates origin from organic production, a “1” stands for free-range, the digit “2” for barn-raised and a “3” for cage-raised. This is followed by the country code of the country of origin – for example, “DE” for Germany or “NL” for the Netherlands. In order to be able to trace the origin from the point of sale back to the barn, the final seven-digit numerical code on German eggs indicates the respective federal state as well as the corresponding farm and barn number – for example, “05” stands for North Rhine-Westphalia or “03” for Lower Saxony (Verbraucherzentrale).
Subscription Food Boxes, Community-supported agriculture & Co.
Regional initiatives are associations of smaller producers, processors, and restaurant owners. They often also include nature conservation and church associations that jointly market their regional foods. The individual regional initiatives set their own quality requirements and control rules. In village and farm stores, at the farmer’s market or with a subscription box, food can be purchased directly from the producer. Many products come directly from the farm and the farmers or traders can provide information about how these are grown. Subscription food box providers deliver organic quality directly to the door, mainly fruits and vegetables, but also many other foods. There are now hundreds of different organic box providers in Germany, and almost all of them deliver fruit and vegetables within a regionally limited radius – this saves on transport costs and makes great ecological sense. A very ecological variant is the Regionalkiste from the Ökokiste association: It contains only fruits and vegetables from the respective region; you can order from all providers individually and with an individual composition or by subscription (Verbraucherzentrale; Utopia).
Community-supported agriculture, also called CSA, is an association of citizens and farmers. The farmers produce agricultural products such as vegetables, meat, eggs or even wool – always considering ecological standards. Individuals pay an annual financial contribution and in return receive fresh food directly from the farm on a regular basis. In most cases, these associations are organized as cooperatives: All profits and losses are shared, and the crops and livestock products produced on the farm are divided among themselves. What exactly the harvest looks like depends on the season and the weather, but one knows under what conditions, by whom and at what price the food is produced. The members of CSA can actively shape the development of the farm and, for example, help decide which fruits and vegetables are grown or which animals should live on the farm. Because CSA takes place regionally and is sometimes networked with local processors and other farming communities, this type of consumption primarily strengthens the local economy. And the list of benefits of CSA goes on: the ecologically managed areas provide a refuge for native animal and plant species, thus counteracting species extinction. Due to minimal transport distances and low energy consumption, the emission of climate-damaging greenhouse gases is lower. The cultivation of old and locally adapted fruit and vegetable varieties contributes to the preservation of variety diversity. Adapted cultivation methods secure and increase soil fertility as an important basis for agriculture (Verbraucherzentrale; Utopia).
by Marie Klimczak