Academic journal article Agricultural Economics Review

Albanian Consumer Preferences for the Use of Powder Milk in Cheese-Making: A Conjoint Choice Experiment

Academic journal article Agricultural Economics Review

Albanian Consumer Preferences for the Use of Powder Milk in Cheese-Making: A Conjoint Choice Experiment

Article excerpt

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the financial support of USAID's AHEED Program for this research work and we are grateful to Mr. Fatmir Nikolli and Mr. Ergent Pire for their contribution in the field survey implementation.

Introduction

Cheese is the main dairy product and one of the main food items among Albanian households. Cheese consumption and production has increased considerably in recent years, vis-a-vis with the increase in the availability of raw milk and enhancement of local processing capacities. As demonstrated in Table 1, during the period 2000-2013, domestic cheese production increased by more than 1/2, while imports increased at much higher rate (more than doubled). The increased levels of imports can be attributed to two main factors affecting the domestic cheese market: 1) the low and inefficient production of domestic raw milk resulting from the farm structure that characterises Albanian agriculture (most cattle farms have 1-2 cows, and less than 2 % of the cattle farms own more than 5 cows (MoAFCP, 2012); 2) consumer preference for wider range of types of cheeses (supplied by imports) and particularly for cheese that meets quality and safety standards. On the other hand, no exports are recorded due to high dairy production costs, as well as compliance issues related to international safety standards.

A large portion of domestically produced cheese is manufactured using imported powder (dry) milk or a mix of (imported) powder milk and (domestic) fresh raw milk. Unfortunately, no statistics are available on the quantity of cheese produced utilising powder milk as a raw material. Most cheese in Albania is sold in bulk, not packaged and not labelled, thus written information about the source of the milk or the type of raw milk (powder or fresh) is not available to the consumer in most cases. Even in the case of labelled cheese, the use of powder milk is rarely stated, according to the best knowledge of the authors based on personal market observations.

Albania, as other countries of South-eastern Europe, has experienced important changes in the system of the government during transition - the move from centralized/planned economy to market-based economy has affected food production, consumption patterns and health system (Zhllima et al., 2012a). Currently in the country there are concerns about food safety and its enforcement by the state, which may cause consumers to distrust food safety, especially for livestock products, which are particularly exposed to food safety threats. Albania is facing serious problems with the national food safety control system in terms of legislation, institutional capacity, infrastructure, control and enforcement, and related private investments, which affect real and perceived safety risks for consumers. The problems in the Agricultural Health and Food Safety System have been identified by several studies most notably in meat and milk products - food-borne diseases caused by microbiological contamination have been considered as a major public health concern (Vercuni et al., 2016). There have been claims about the undeclared use of powder milk as well as for the production and sales of contaminated milk in Albania, which have been reflected also in Albanian daily newspapers (Gazeta Dita, 2015; Gazeta Shqip, 2013). Generally, cheese produced using fresh milk is considered superior, while there are concerns about the type/quality of powder milk. On the other hand, there are serious problems also related to fresh raw milk too (e.g. microbiological contamination) in Albania. Most dairy cattle farmers have gaps in terms of food safety standards (Gjeci et al., 2016). Food safety and quality attributes are increasingly demanded by consumers, however the private sector is still not prepared to respond by developing its own mechanisms - alternative systems of safety and quality certifications are not widely diffused in the dairy sector in Albania (Vercuni et al, 2016). …

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