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The Malian dairy sector plays a critical role in food security and nutrition and is an important source of employment. However, in recent years the competition between local and imported dairy products has been increasing. In 2015, the European Union ended its milk production quotas, which led to overproduction and low prices. Recognizing the growth potential in Africa, many European dairy firms have increased or extended their trade to the continent, including to Mali (Orasmaa et al., 2016). Despite the large volumes of milk production in Mali (e.g., approximately 600,000 tons in 2017) and qualitative accounts suggesting that Malians have a preference for local fresh milk (GoM, 2017), imported powdered milk continues to capture a large share of the growing market. About one third of dairy consumption in Mali as a whole and over two-thirds in its capital, Bamako, are met through powdered milk (author’s calculations from World Bank, 2015). This paper uses choice experiments to examine Malian retailer and consumer preferences for fresh milk as an ingredient in pasteurized milk products, and to investigate information asymmetry as a problem that can help to explain thin markets (i.e., relatively low traded volumes) in Bamako’s fresh milk value chain. One major contribution of our study is that in addition to consumer preferences, we investigate retailer preferences since they are a critical link between farmers and consumers. We conducted two separate but parallel choice experiment surveys with consumers and retailer, in the spirit of the “stacked survey method” which allows for the statistical analysis of differences across value chain segments (Reardon et al., 2012:32). Compared to the traditional approach of conducting a single consumer choice experiment, our innovation allows us to probe more deeply into potential issues of information asymmetry and to provide additional insights for the marketing of dairy products. We designed discrete choice experiments that focused on three quality-signaling mechanisms that Malian dairy manufacturers might adopt to provide product quality information to buyers. The first was labeling that indicated the ingredient composition of a product (in terms of fresh and powdered milk). The second was a third-party quality certification backed by the government, a private entity, or both. The third mechanism was enhanced packaging (i.e. a sealed pouch, bottle, or carton), compared to traditional plastic sack packaging. Due to preference heterogeneity within these populations, we analyzed the data for each sample using mixed logit and latent-class (LC) models, and in both preference and willingness-to-pay (WTP) space. We then tested for statistical differences in results between the samples. We collected the data for this study in March 2018, by surveying 218 consumer households and 205 retailers (traditional shops and small grocery stores) located across Bamako. In the first stage of sampling, we stratified the city’s neighborhoods into three wealth levels then randomly selected eighteen neighborhoods from the three groups. In the second stage, within each neighborhood we used geographic random sampling to select households and retailers. Five key findings, with implications for agribusiness strategy and government policy emerge. First, we find a positive and significant WTP for attributes that provide information on product ingredients, safety, and other dimensions of quality. Together, these results provide evidence of information asymmetry between manufacturers and buyers (i.e., retailer and consumers) of pasteurized milk products. This resonates with Lefevre (2014)’s finding of misinformation in the Dakar dairy market, and we echo that paper’s recommendation for government policies that improve information flows amongst consumers and other value chain actors. One such policy option is to require, and better regulate, the labeling of ingredients on product packaging. Second, we find that consumers have a specific preference for government certification of product quality, compared to private certification, and are willing to pay an important price premium for this assurance. This finding suggests that dairy manufacturers can create value for their brands by improving product quality and adopting the existing (but underutilized) government certification program. However, several other conditions must be met in order for this system to be effective. Among these, the Malian government must improve consumers’ awareness of the certification program while simultaneously strengthening enforcement of corresponding regulations in the dairy market. Third, we find that that Bamako consumers are willing to pay a significant price premium for pasteurized milk that is made purely from fresh milk. Further, results from the LC model shows that nearly 85% of consumers prefer fresh milk compared to reconstituted powdered milk or a blend of these two ingredients. Given the current limited availability of fresh milk dairy products in Bamako, this points to an important market opportunity for fresh milk farmers and processors. However, in order to successfully compete against imported powdered milk, the fresh milk value chain must reduce production and transaction costs while better-differentiating their brands from those that are manufactured from powdered milk (Vroegindewey, 2018). The labeling and certification mechanisms that we analyze in this study are two options for improving differentiation. Our fourth finding pertains to another option– enhanced packaging. Our analysis shows that only one type of enhanced packaging is valued by just one of the three consumer latent classes (representing about 65% of consumers). Overall, consumers do not have strong preferences for enhanced packaging. This is surprising, given that other dairy consumer studies show that consumers derive value from higher-quality packaging. On the other hand, other research in Bamako shows that consumers may view traditional packaging as a signaling mechanism for fresh milk (Vroegindewey, 2018). We highlight packaging as an important area for further research. Fifth, our analysis of retailer data demonstrates that retailer preferences are well-aligned with those of consumers. These two groups also have similar WTP for most product attribute levels. These results imply that retailers can be a useful source of information for upstream value chain actors wishing to understand consumer preferences and demand. However, our LC analysis reveals significant segmentation among retailers, implying that pasteurized milk manufacturers should select their distributor partners carefully. For example, fresh milk products may obtain the greatest price premium among high-volume retailers that prioritize being able to offer a variety of dairy products. In contrast, many low-volume, low-variety retailers (representing about 30% of retailers) have no WTP for fresh milk or any other product attribute. A third latent class (representing another 40% of retailers) has positive WTP for each attribute, including packaging. Overall, these insights demonstrate the usefulness of complementing information on consumers with retailer analysis in a food market study. Our paper illustrates the use of stacked choice experiments as one promising tool for this endeavor.


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