The Diffusion of Innovative Practices Among Meat Retailers in Northern Greece: “Think Meal Not Meat”

The Diffusion of Innovative Practices Among Meat Retailers in Northern Greece: “Think Meal Not Meat”

Philippos Papadopoulos (American Farm School, Greece)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/jeei.2011070104

Abstract

This paper investigates the degree to which Greek butchers try to come to grips with the implications of long term modern trends. The “traditional butcher versus modern supermarket” conceptual dichotomy is a dead-end for the former. In order to meet the long term challenges of contradictory consumer behavior trends, Greek butchers must embrace them and use them to their own advantage, rather than resist them. The paper deals with issues of innovation adoption by the sector, emphasising the role of the sectoral collective institutions that act as the collective consciousness of their constituents and can hinder or facilitate innovation diffusion.
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Introduction

Then my most earnest advice to you is not to keep it going any longer ... How long have you been playing with fire? (Uncle Vanya advising his brother not to invent fire, in Roy Lewis’ The Evolution Man)

The purpose of this paper is to set the groundwork for the investigation of the degree to which Greek butchers try to come to grips with the implications of long term modern trends of meat consumption that gradually turn clients towards supermarkets and away from traditional neighborhood butchers. The issue is viewed through the entrepreneurial versus conservative disposition dichotomy and is informed by the present day economic crisis, which forms the backdrop against which the story is unfolding.

By now it is clear that the economic crisis we are going through is not going to have the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, large and small. It is highly probable however that, at least in Greece, it will on the one hand leave behind a trail of ruined small business as it reduces the disposable income of lower and middle classes, and on the other hand will usher in an even more hectic life-style as it dismantles the public sector. Against this background, our subjects are a group of shop-owners that do not possess any of the kudos of high-tech SMEs nor are they expected to spearhead the recovery of the economy; in fact their job is a very prosaic one, butchering carcasses and selling meat. Our primary research subjects were seventy SME clients of Provil S.A., a food ingredients producer. Their mundane job however and their embeddedness in the local society – which makes them representative of many small enterprises - offers no protection from the developments set in motion by globalisation. So, is the Greek neighborhood butcher on his way to joining the gallery of lost traditional professions like the travelling knife-sharpener and ice-cream seller?

The proposition of this paper is the following: The “traditional butcher” versus “modern supermarket” conceptual dichotomy that dominates at present the sectoral discourse is a dead end, because it implicitly stresses the personal relationship and trust between shop-owner and customer without actually enhancing and utilising it to accommodate evolving customer needs. In order to meet the long term challenges of contradictory consumer behavior trends, such as the dominance of convenience food and health concerns, the Greek butchers have to embrace them and use them to their own advantage, rather than resist them.

The Setting

In the value chain linking the farm to the plate, butchers traditionally position themselves as experts of carcass selection and curving that can be trusted by their customers, who lack that expertise. The traditional Greek housewife on the other hand, historically the butcher’s main client, positions herself in “the historically consolidated role” of the cooking specialist, proud of her skills and her social role in the family context (Sarri & Trihopoulou, 2005). The cooperation of these two covers the whole value chain and thus has developed over the years into a strong interpersonal bond, based on trust and inter-dependence.

The predominantly conservative nature of Greek eating culture (Wright, Nancarrow, & Kwok, 2001) has elevated the trust bond to an effective barrier against the domination by supermarkets of the fresh meat market; about 70% of the market is still served by ‘traditional” butchers (Bourlakis, Ness, & Priporas, 2006). Without going into too much detail, we could say that until recently, irrespective of the type of retail outlet utilised, the desired end for the Greek client was fresh, healthy, nutritious and tasty meat at an affordable price.

The super market environment attempts to meet this end by means of standardised packaging and labeling; this approach is backed by an ever increasing amount of legislation at European level. The client is thus called to use her rational, label-decoding abilities, augmented by inherent sensorial cues, to make a solitary, unaided, choice (West, Larue, Gendron, & Scott, 2002). The available international empirical research seems to indicate that this approach is not wholly satisfactory and that clients tend to be uncertain of their sensorial ability to choose and confused by the labeling systems available (Barnhart, 2005; Rimal, 2005). Be that as it may, in the modernist Western urban societies, most clients tend to have a few alternatives; thus, developing ever more detailed and reader-friendly traceability and labeling systems is more or less a one-way street.

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