The potential role of the consumer in the revitalisation of the Romanian apple industry
After many years of domination by the Soviet Union, 1989 brought great changes in Eastern Europe. The collapse of the communist system has led to the beginning of a new era in which Eastern European countries are being required both to develop a democratic system and adapt to a market economy. Left with a legacy of massive unproductive factories and immense co-operative farms, the beginning of the transition towards the market economy has been difficult. One of the factors associated with the emerging market economy is argued to be the increasing importance of the consumer. In Romania, some sectors of the economy declined more than others and compared to other sectors, agriculture and horticulture in particular, have declined less. However, land reform, loss of former markets and poor inputs due to financial constraints have left their mark on Romanian horticulture. Once named by the Soviet Union "the breadbasket of Eastern Europe", Romania and Romanian horticulture are required to adapt presently to the new market conditions. Within the horticultural sector, the apple industry is one of the areas in urgent need of revitalisation. Reaching its peak under the communist centralised command system, the industry has to be rebuilt to new standards which recognise, perhaps for the first time, the role of the consumer. This research examines the Romanian apple industry (fresh apples and apple juices), in order to analyse the expectations of consumers and to determine whether the Romanian apple industry is able to adapt and respond to those key expectations in the foreseeable future. Additionally, Romanian consumers and the country's apple industry arc contrasted with those in the UK and Germany, countries with traditional market economies which also represent potential export markets for Romanian produce. Focusing on the consumer in relation to the Romanian apple industry, the work reports on the findings and discusses some obstacles to, and proposed actions for, the revitalisation of the Romanian apple industry. In order to achieve the various objectives a multiple methodology was developed, including both quantitative and qualitative approaches. The expectations and preferences of consumers were identified by means of questionnaires and focus groups, involving the four domestic apple varieties selected as reference products. The information collected was presented to the apple industry and in-depth interviews were conductedi n order to assess the industry's difficulties and its capacity to respond the consumer requirements which had been determined.