Globalization, either directly or indirectly (e.g. through structural adjustment reforms), has called for profound changes in the previously existing institutional order. Some changes adversely impacted the production and market environment of many coffee producers in developing countries resulting in more risky and less remunerative coffee transactions. This paper focuses on customization of a tropical commodity, fair-trade coffee, as an approach to mitigating the effects of worsened market conditions for small-scale coffee producers in less developed countries. fair-trade labeling is viewed as a form of “de-commodification” of coffee through product differentiation on ethical grounds. This is significant not only as a solution to the market failure caused by pervasive information asymmetries along the supply chain, but also as a means of revitalizing the agricultural-commodity-based trade of less developed countries (LDCs) that has been languishing under globalization. More specifically, fair-trade is an example of how the same strategy adopted by developed countries’ producers/ processors (i.e. the sequence product differentiation - institutional certification - advertisement) can be used by LDC producers to increase the reputation content of their outputs by transforming them from mere commodities into “decommodified” (i.e. customized and more reputed) goods. The resulting segmentation of the world coffee market makes possible to meet the demand by consumers with preference for this “(ethically) customized” coffee and to transfer a share of the accruing economic rents backward to the Fair-trade coffee producers in LDCs. It should however be stressed that this outcome cannot be taken for granted since investments are needed to promote the required institutional innovations. In Italy FTC is a niche market with very few private brands selling this product. However, an increase of FTC market share could be a big commercial opportunity for farmers in LDCs and other economic agents involved along the international coffee chain. Hence, this research explores consumers’ knowledge of labels promoting quality products, consumption coffee habits, brand loyalty, willingness to pay and market segmentation according to the heterogeneity of preferences for coffee products. The latter was assessed developing a D-efficient design where stimuli refinement was tested during two focus groups.


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