From commodity to customer value : the transition from a production-oriented to a market-oriented European dairy industry

W.C. Everwand, P.T.M. Ingenbleek, G.B.C. Backus

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional


The European food industry has been regulated for a long time. Since the 1960s, the European market has been protected from imports by relatively high taxes. Companies in Europe therefore never had to fear real competition from outside the Union in their domestic markets. This changed, when, due to WTO negotiations, markets had to be more deregulated. Facing international competition, within the European food industry the concentration increased, leading to unified, oligopolistic markets. Trying to realise scale and scope effects, companies adopted growth strategies both within their national and international markets. Although scale and scope effects are still important, the focus to increase profitability and secure company survival is differentiation, or the creation of customer value in products and brands. Using such terms as 'demand-driven chains and networks', 'turning around chains', 'consumer orientation', 'customer orientation' or 'market orientation', a transition seems to take place from production-oriented to market-oriented firms and systems in agribusiness. The objective of this report is to increase our insights in the transition to marketoriented agribusiness. We develop this model from a theoretical perspective, building on industry evolution and punctuated equilibrium theory, as well as Tedlow's development model for marketing. We test this model and improve it by conducting a multiple, holistic case study in the dairy industry. The transition from production-oriented to market-oriented happened relatively recent in dairy, and its impact has been relatively dramatic. Within the European dairy industry, we compare two cases, i.e. Friesland Foods and Nordmilch. Overall, our cases provide support for the model. Both companies moved from a more fragmented industry structure, to a phase in which they increased scale and scope, and subsequently recognised the creation of customer value as a new key success factor (although Friesland was more able to respond to that than Nordmilch). An important exception is that our results also show that Friesland has throughout its history been an international company. The fact that Friesland (and some other European dairy firms) have operated in an international environment throughout its history and thereby learning from multinationals like Unilever and Nestlé that were encountered in the market, has influenced its mode of learning, development of marketing capabilities and brands, and contributes to the industry transition from production-oriented to market-oriented as a whole. To arrive at where it is now, Friesland adopted a pattern of continuous change early in its existence. Its brands, market positions abroad and marketing capabilities were gradually developed in a step-by-step manner. This contrasts strongly with the pattern of change we found at Nordmilch: for a long time it was successful with the strategy it had, due to its large domestic market and defining itself as a German rather than a European dairy firm, it could continue this strategy without being too much bothered by the changing environment of the European dairy industry. Once it received signals that the strategy was no longer feasible in the business environment (like a historically low milk price and the 10 entrance of a new competitor, Campina), it went through a transformation in which leadership, power structure, organisational structure, business unit strategy and core values and beliefs changed. These findings suggest that in order to become a company at the forefront of the industry, continuous change is a requirement rather than an advantage. Punctuated change leaves companies with the remaining strategic options in the industry, whereas companies that are also changing in a punctuated fashion but respond relatively late, are the ones that are absorbed by the others searching for scale advantages. On the basis of these results, implications are drawn for the dairy industry and extensions are drawn for other industries.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDen Haag
Number of pages75
ISBN (Print)9789086151363
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Publication series

NameReport / LEI : Domain 2, Business development and competitive position


  • agricultural sector
  • agricultural economics
  • agribusiness
  • dairy industry
  • markets
  • market competition
  • marketing
  • europe


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