Hochschule für nachhaltige Entwicklung Eberswalde



From Niche to Volume with Integrity and Trust

Background and aims of the project 

Organic food value chains often move from niche to volume — the chain actors grow from small into medium-scale economic structures. In the organic market, product qualities based on values are of crucial importance in this process. Examples for such values are locally grown products, environmental awareness and fair prices for producers.

The aim of the project was to investigate a range of successful mid-scale organic value chains with regard to combining volume and values. Not only product-based values were investigated, but also values determining the relationship between the chain actors, such as trust. As a result, recommendations for policy makers and practitioners were developed.

The project contributes to realising the HNEE sustainability principles, which proclaim healthy growth respecting ecosystems and social systems.

Target group

The target group consists of growing small and medium-scale organic producers and other actors of the chain, e.g. those processing organic goods. Consultants, marketing agencies, individual retailers and large-scale market chains can also profit from the results for strategic planning.


Six key aspects were concluded from analysing the case studies conducted during the project. These key aspects are considered crucial for strengthening growth processes that are healthy and values-based. Precise recommendations for policy makers and practitioners can be derived from these key aspects.

  • Key aspect 1: Good cooperation  

    Good cooperation among chain actors is based on trust and longevity, thus enabling consistent product qualities during growth processes. Controversies about values such as the scale of “locally” grown products are very common in growing organic chains. A combination of contractual agreements and informal meetings is advisable for good cooperation. Policies can encourage good cooperation among chain actors by offering competent counselling services, e.g. with regard to contractual matters or conflict management.


  • Key aspect 2: A precise and consistent management strategy 

    For growing successfully without losing values, a business needs a professional management strategy with clearly defined goals, which also provides for sticking to these goals in the process. The case studies suggest that management skills were limited within the organic chains that were analysed. Often, these skills are being acquired step-by-step through working experience, which can be an arduous and time-consuming process. Policy makers and expanding businesses are thus advised to provide counselling and coaching when it comes to management skills. For businesses it is also advisable to outsource certain areas to professionals, such as marketing, marketing research and controlling.


  • Key aspect 3: Values-based training schemes 

    The employment of new staff members is a characteristic trait of growth processes. These new employees are often specialists in certain areas, e.g. sales — however, they might not have any knowledge of values-based organic production and marketing. The establishment of training schemes which integrate values is hence of crucial importance. In-house training and external training schemes should be made use of by all actors of the organic chain, and educational institutions should provide for such training opportunities. Policy makers should support educational institutions — e.g. vocational schools, colleges and universities - in providing training for values-based food production and marketing.

  • Key aspect 4: Promotion of values-based products through public procurement

    Public authorities can support the demand for organic, regional or seasonal food by implementing the relevant criteria when procuring goods for communal catering. According to the case studies though, sustainable public procurement practices are usually not implemented, despite the establishment of sustainability aspects in European public procurement legislation. It is advised that administrative authorities use their potential to procure values-based goods (e.g. organic, local or seasonal goods) by setting criteria for public procurement practices. Exchanging ideas with caterers prior to procurement allows for checking the financial feasibility of specific meals, e.g. from organic goods. Stakeholders of the organic food business sector can actively investigate criteria for public procurement with regard to their respective authority and also register there for procurement - possibly with professional support and in exchange with local producers and food manufacturers.

  • Key aspect 5: The legal framework for values-based meat chains 

    Values-based meat chains are faced with difficulties due the great number of legal regulations concerning animal slaughter. Good communication between lifestock owners and slaughterhouse managers or butchers, as well as good cooperation with veterinary authorities can help to arrange for agreements that are legally feasible. Premium prices can be reached when values (e.g. high animal welfare standards) are communicated along the food chain, all the way from producer to customer. For the consumer, binding standards and certification systems make for transparency and trust. For establishing values-based meat chains, qualified counselling from authority bodies is also essential. Training programmes for the employees that are working for authority bodies are a prerequesite — not only to inform about the complex legal framework, but also about questions of interpretation.

  • Key aspect 6: Fostering connections with civil society

    Those values which are at the very heart of the organic food business are also being held up by many actors in civil society. Fostering connections with civil society, e.g. environmental groups, might open up new communication channels for actors of the organic food chain. Although joint activities can be time-consuming, it might be worthwhile because it enables a transfer of values between chain actors and society at large, thus making for credibility and transparency of the respective chain. Existing subsidies for civil society groups could thus also be useful for supporting a sustainable, values-based food production.

Recommendations for practitioners and policy makers can be downloaded here:  Recommendations.pdf 

A large number of publications about details of the project and its results can be found here.


Data basis

The project entity consisted of 10 national research teams from different parts of Europe. In 19 case studies, organic food businesses were analysed. The veritable growth and the value orientation of the businesses were the selection criteria. In the case studies, expert interviews and expert talks were deployed to analyse and compare the businesses’ strategies for maintaining values in growth processes. The research team at HNEE conducted two case studies, with the medium-sized enterprise ‚Bohlsener Mühle‘ and the farm-to-table food company ‚Landwege e.G.‘.

Contact at HNEE

Prof. Dr. Anna Maria Häring

Dr. Susanne von Münchhausen

Project funding

The project HealthyGrowth was funded by the Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in the framework of the Federal Scheme for Organic Farming and other Forms of Sustainable Agriculture (BÖLN). It was part of the EU-Programme  ‚Core Organic II‘‚ contributing to a transnational and stakeholder-based research in favour of organic agriculture.

Project duration: 04/2013 – 08/2016.





Funded by the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture with the Federal Program for Organic Agriculture and other forms of Sustainable Agriculture (BÖLN)