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The development organisation, International Development Enterprises (iDE UK) has been working with support from UK donor Comic Relief, to enable Ethiopian beekeepers to access national markets. Working in partnership with the Ethiopian NGO, SOS Sahel, the project aimed to lift small-scale producers out of poverty by enabling them to increase productivity and sell value added honey products. This challenge was the driver of a unique partnership between The Innocent Foundation and iDE UK. This culminated in the development of a marketing strategy for the Amar brand of honey by a specialist from the Innocent Drinks company. iDE UK are keen to share the learning from this undertaking with other honey producers through Bees for Development's network.
Two stage marketing strategy
Market research was conducted over two weeks and entailed meetings with honey experts to inform a comprehensive marketing strategy specifically for Ethiopian markets. Meetings were with three beekeeping co-operatives, more than ten supermarkets, Zembaba Beekeepers Union, the beekeeping research centre, The Ethiopia Honey and Beeswax Producers and Exporters' Association, honey entrepreneurs and two honey whole-sale markets. This research found the Ethiopian honey market to be highly fragmented, with a number of honey brands available, but without any clear market leader. In fact there were 12 small brands but none demonstrated any key points of difference with regard to the presentation of products and sizes.
Building a marketing strategy was based on understanding three factors:
1. The strengths of the products versus those of competitors ie the honeys' Unique Selling Point (USP) which can be obtained from a SWOT analysis (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities and threats).
2. Who the target customers are, and what is important to them.
3. The products' positioning - what values are associated with the AMAR brand.
The marketing strategy was focused on four areas to grow sales of AMAR honey.
On finding that only one co-operative had stock, achieving a year-long supply through enhanced training, recruitment of additional beekeepers and developing a government support structure was recommended. Additionally, customers' misconception that crystallisation of honey indicated poor quality could be overcome through educating customers about the natural crystallisation process. Lastly, considering that the domestic market does not regard honey to be a daily product, and the sole availability of large (500 g or 1 kg) pack sizes at a relatively high cost, it was advised that the pack size should be reduced to achieve greater sales volume. This would require a supply of smaller containers.
Ensuring that AMAR continued to be competitive was key, as the product was positioned as 'affordable'. Interestingly however, the possibility of a price increase was suggested if further research on customers' perception of price indicated that they viewed it as a gauge of quality. In such instances, low prices would not necessarily be most attractive to consumers.
Maintaining records and details of old stockists was considered integral to ensuring their priority if supply issues arose, and in this situation, stockists should be informed of changes in honey availability to avoid disappointment. Targeting supermarkets opening in the local area as well as targeting new outlets, such as the tourist market, was seen to hold considerable potential, as honey is a local, easily transportable and ethical product. Finally, to develop a long-term relationship with stockists, the training of a co-operative salesperson was advised, with responsibility for visiting supermarkets, generating interest and informing about the co-operative's activities.
Defining clear objectives for each promotional item and generating material differentiated on the basis of readership (such as for trade and stockists) is valuable for developing more relevant and wide-reaching promotional agenda. All communications (for example leaflets) should be tested on customers to generate feedback and ascertain helpfulness: this was lacking from current practice. Enhancing the promotion of AMAR honey also required the development of new labels, leaflets and posters which stand out to customers and reflect the intended positioning of AMAR as an ethical product.
Production and supply have been a challenge to enhanced honey sales and initial focus has been on overcoming this constraint, and the benefits of the marketing strategy are yet to be fully achieved. The honey markets within Ethiopia and beyond hold substantial possibilities for which effective marketing and brand management are essential.