EBRD, FAO and Serbian government worked together on “Srpski Kvalitet” to encourage higher quality standards
Serbian meat producers can now apply for the “Serbian Quality – Srpski Kvalitet” label, the country’s first national quality label, to set their products apart in the market. At a press conference held in Belgrade on 22 May 2017, the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection unveiled the quality label, announcing that eight products had already been granted the right to use it.
The Serbian government has been working with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to encourage the adoption of high quality standards in the meat sector.
With funding from Luxembourg, a dedicated project brought together a working group of meat-processing companies and government representatives to create a public quality label that would recognise the higher quality of certain meat products, as well as other food categories later on.
To obtain the new quality stamp, contending products must use Serbian raw materials, in this case Serbian meat. In addition, for each type of product category, the label will require up to three specific properties differentiating the Srpski Kvalitet products from standard products in the market.
Gaining consumer confidence and market edge
Over half of Serbia’s farms raise livestock, and many produce meat – mainly pork, poultry and beef. However, imports and competition in the domestic market have become more intense, with increasing quantities of locally processed meat products made from imported frozen meat. That is why the new label focuses on meat from animals raised in Serbia with feed free from genetically modified organisms, an increasingly important point for most Serbian consumers.
The new quality label, created by a ministerial decree, can help premium meat products gain recognition in the domestic market and potentially abroad, and provide consumers with guarantees on product quality and traceability.
“This is an important development for our country’s food industry as a whole, as the national label will assure consumers that what they are buying is made with products from the Republic of Serbia and is of superior quality,” said Branislav Nedimović, Serbia’s Minister of Agriculture and Environmental Protection, at the press conference. “It will create a premium for quality meat products and help producers tap into new markets.”
Drawing on the French experience
The initiative began in 2014 when FAO and the EBRD organised a study trip to France for a group of Serbian meat producers and government representatives. In a meeting with key French players involved in meat production and quality certification, they learned more about the use of public and private quality labels.
Study tour participants were particularly impressed by France’s Label Rouge, a mark that assures consumers of the superior quality of certain food products compared with similar products in the market. Created in the early 1980s, the label – which now applies to a wide range of products – has gained huge consumer recognition.
Tamara Penjić, Executive Director of MI Carnex, a leading producer, who participated in the visit, said: “We left France very motivated and well prepared to develop a Serbian quality label that would help our premium meat products gain greater recognition, both domestically and internationally. In 2016 we founded our Serbian Meat Quality Association and this year we have our first products certified with the Serbian Quality label.”
According to the recent decree, applications for the new label need to come from an association. In this context, the Serbian Meat Quality Label Association was created at the end of 2016. The Association carries out pre-screening, agrees on the quality features of the selected products and submits requests to the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection for approval.
“This association is very useful, not only for identifying and promoting products that can obtain the quality mark, but also for encouraging a productive dialogue between the industry and government authorities on quality issues. It encourages industry players to coordinate and better enforce safety and quality standards along the entire value chain,” said Miljan Zdrale, Head of Agribusiness for South-Eastern Europe at the EBRD.
Keeping up the momentum in Serbia…
Like the Label Rouge, the Srpski Kvalitet label has a strong visual image designed to earn consumer trust and loyalty, at home and outside of Serbia.
While Serbian meat products will be the first category of products to benefit from the label, the label is open to all sectors. The example set by the country’s meat industry will inspire other sectors to work with the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection to grant the label to other high-quality, locally produced goods – from milk products to honey and vegetables.
…and in the region
“Consumers are increasingly eager to know where and how their food is produced,” said Emmanuel Hidier, an FAO Senior Economist. “So it is only fair enough that the efforts of producers to achieve higher quality and guarantee the origin of their products are duly recognised through trustworthy labels. The process of creating origin-based and quality labels in Serbia has been very stimulating and encouraging. It has involved lots of goodwill and cooperation from a wide range of stakeholders, from public authorities to farmers and agribusinesses.”