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Let’s be honest, Episode 13: Sustainable Product Design Strategy & Agribusiness

Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project with the aim to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable, as well as the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!

"The size of the company also has minimal influence on a company’s level of sustainability, whereas a company’s primary function plays a more significant role. (Rankin et al. 2011)"

What are we talking about?

There are many challenges when designing a strategy for agricultural businesses. There is a broad scope of agricultural firms in terms of production hierarchies to the final market, there are many branches of agricultural enterprises such as Farming, Fruit Trees, Vegetables, Food Production, Plant Protection, Plant Nutrition, Seeds, Machinery, etc. On the other hand, in many cases, these businesses have been integrated with other components of the industry, i.e., they need to be combined with other factors for development in the market, but in general, the principal basis of agricultural businesses in the agricultural industry appear and other factors such as technology, machinery, etc. In fact, integrating technologies are the facilitators and helpers in the development of the commodity of an agricultural business.

"In an industrial society, based on specialization and division of labor, food provision for the population is realized in a system of interrelated economic branches, which we call the American 'agribusiness' concept 'food system' (Thimm/Besch, 1971, p. 7). This system can be partitioned into a number of subsystems, the upstream industries supplying products and services to the farmers, the farmers themselves, and the downstream industries, processing, and marketing agricultural products. The system consists of three structural elements: (1) the branches belonging to the system (institutions), (2) the functions performed in the system, and (3) the product flows through the respective branches of the system. (Matthew Meulenberg, Erdener Kaynak 1994) [1]"

One of the most essential and foremost criteria for measuring an effective strategy design concerning agricultural business is its innovative approach. Sometimes, due to the complexities of implementing an innovative idea in the agricultural business, we also need to be creative in implementing product development methods based on the designed strategy. This means that our design has the desired innovations. Still, due to the factors that affect the implementation process slowness or the implementation arrest concerning product development, we need administrative creativity in the strategy development process. Can say that innovation and creativity with the levers and support of technology can accelerate the process of strategy design and strategy implementation.

"According to the OECD, marketing innovations contribute to companies that do not include other types of innovations and are focused on clients and markets including “Significant changes in product design referred to changes in the form and appearance that do not alter the product’s functional or user characteristics. They also include changes in the packaging of products such as foods, beverages, and detergents where packaging is the main determinant of the product’s appearance” or changes in product placement referred to as “the introduction of new sale channels, meaning, the methods used to sell goods and services to clients and not logistic methods” (OECD, 2006, pp. 60-61). (Cristian Geldes, Christian Felzensztein 2013) [2]"

Product status in the market, compliance with production data, and product updates following production standards, sales, marketing, development, research, etc. This process, which is the result of creating ideas that can eliminate the problems related to the product audience, also leads to the development of the product in specialized channels. There are many successful examples in this area. For example, the growing movement of large agricultural companies globally, such as Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, etc., have taken serious steps in the field of sustainable development indicators. Designing a strategy for the distribution of goods also requires the experience of customers and consumers, which are generally related to the problems of goods and the shortcomings in the market. So in product design and product strategy design, there is a common and critical view: to discuss, exchange ideas and suggestions, and solve product problems based on consumer experience. This approach provides in-depth insights into product updates that help us in strategy design and the duration of complementary product designs.

"The development of the food market depends on consumer trust in production quality. Consumers form perceptions about food quality not only through objective product characteristics, but also through a combination of aspects related to personal needs, such as food safety, environmental impact, supporting local and rural communities, and other ethical aspects (Migliore et al., 2015). (Ladislav Pilar et al. 2018) [3]"

"Design strategies consider the creation of possibilities that have not existed before but become a platform to “inform the design of revised or totally new alternatives” (Boyer, Cook, and Steinberg, 2011, p.33). Service design strategies are a way to accomplish set objectives and find ways toward the realization of those aims. The designer’s role in this respect is not a “question of thinking or doing, but what to think about and how to do” (Boyer et al., 2011, p.29). These approaches reflect the potential of service design strategies to envision products and services whose success today may be the norm for tomorrow. Product-Service System (PSS) design integrates products, services, and communication strategies into a complex network that includes users, stakeholders, organizations, etc. Meroni (2008) provides a few definitions on Strategic Design that are relevant to the discourse. (Emily Ballantyne-Brodie, Ida Telalbasic 2017) [4]"

Concerning agricultural businesses, the creative process of brainstorming, creating a concept for the product needed by the user, and designing the desired outcome in the market may also be associated with sensitivities. These sensitivities are particularly relevant in the agricultural sector to sustainable development and the transcendent concept of sustainability. Numerous cases include food loss, crop loss by pests, use of illegal chemical pesticides, chemical nutrition of crops, soil erosion, etc. All of the above are just some of the sensitivities associated with sustainable development that should be considered in creating a product design strategy for the agricultural business. Especially when a business intends to implement its desired strategies on product design in the industrial branches of the agricultural sector, the importance of integrating advanced procedures with the concept of sustainable development will increase. Can replace recent examples of environmentally friendly product design and sustainable development in all regions over time. (This has happened in developed countries). An example is biopesticides, pheromones, mechanical control, pheromone traps, organic fertilizers and amino acids of organic origin, plant and animal residues to produce organic fertilizers, insectariums, etc.

"Results indicate that strong management pressures have a positive and highly significant relationship with the level of a firm’s sustainability initiatives. Other pressures including competition, government regulations, and the media have little or no effect. The size of the company also has minimal influence on a company’s level of sustainability, whereas a company’s primary function plays a more significant role. (Rankin et al. 2011) [5]"

On the other hand, the standards set by international organizations and institutions concerning the implementation of sustainable development goals will be other factors affecting product design and design strategy. Our approach is not to produce and design a product with the classic standards of production and design in agriculture, so other aspects of the development, from production and design to implementation and presentation in the market, must also have strategies specific to this sustainable product in the agricultural business. Post-sustainable product design approaches as product distribution and marketing strategies are other important and influential factors.

“Competitiveness in the market: A product in line with sustainable development should benefit from stronger strategies to be present in the market.”

"The scope and dynamic of the environmental sector have long been underestimated, in part due to insufficient data as well as demarcation problems inherent in the sector itself. The concept of "environmental industry" has long been understood as only being the economic activities that provide technical solutions for (downstream) environmental protection. This would include everything from filtration systems for air pollution to waste management. In this area, there is satisfactory data. It was only later that this was expanded to include clearly defined and tangible renewable energies. As a next step, energy-efficient technologies, and ultimately, material-saving processes and products and up until biotechnology were also included. (Martin Jänicke 2011) [6]"

Given that the product design process is generally widespread through the design method of thinking, these steps seem to be consistent with the sustainable product development of an agricultural business, i.e., this process through Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test will be complete.

"The development of new products, technologies, and services has been accelerated in recent decades due to globalization, connectivity, and technological development. With such advances, innovation has become one of the main survival factors of companies in the market, especially those that are sensitive to the entry of new products. Due to the aforementioned aspects, the process of developing new products has been exponentially costly and fast, which is why the literature on open innovation and co-creation has been deepened in recent years (Huizingh, 2011). With the practice of open innovation and specifically co-creation, the product development process becomes shared between companies, consumers, and/or suppliers, diluting costs and risks and providing greater agility in the process of experience sharing. Such sharing between firms can be done at various levels of openness, according to the needs of the companies and the project in question (Chesbrough & Crowther, 2006). (Adriana Baraldi Alves dos Santos et al. 2018) [7]"

“Great design will not sell an inferior product, but it will enable a great product to achieve its maximum potential. (Thomas Watson Jr.)”

Customer experience as an effective technique in agricultural business product design

One type of interaction in agricultural businesses that leads to product improvement and updating from design to supply and helps us design the final product is a customer-centric strategy. Due to the variety of products and services offered in agricultural businesses as well as the implementation of the element of sustainability in the design and implementation cycle, the application of customer experience seems essential such as the Farmers to Consumer approach, and Digital Agriculture used in the farms, Nutrition applications. As mentioned, our strategy requires a creative and innovative idea to compete with the classic market products because the competitive advantage in the agricultural sector between sustainable and unsustainable goods is very important. Especially in terms of price, this situation is much more prominent. On the other hand, other factors such as packaging, professional design, quality of manufactured goods, etc. are also involved in this field. Using the customer experience in all stages of product supply as an efficient strategy can be helpful and necessary for sustainable product development. In fact, we have the customer experience inherent in sustainable product design, which always helps us as a contributing factor in updating the product.

"Exuberant statistics aside, online executives and Internet marketing academics alike agree that the need to develop a comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior in commercial online environments is urgent. To date, there has been a lack of genuine knowledge about what contributes to effective interactions with online customers, although intuition and previous research (Dholakia and Bagozzi 1999; Hoffman and Novak 1996a) suggest that creating a compelling online environment for Web consumers will have numerous positive consequences for commercial Web providers. Hoffman and Novak extended the idea to encompass consumer navigation behavior in online environments such as the World Wide Web and defined flow as “the state occurring during network navigation which is:

(1) characterized by a seamless sequence of responses facilitated by machine interactivity, (2) intrinsically enjoyable, (3) accompanied by a loss of self-consciousness and (4) self-reinforcing.” To experience flow while engaged in an online pursuit, consumers must perceive a balance between their skills and the challenges of the interaction, and both their skills and challenges must be above a critical threshold. (Thomas P. Novak et al. 1999) [8]"

Our final thoughts and conclusions:

Monitoring the implementation of customer experiences in product design and ensuring the consolidation of product updates in the market based on customer experience is another way to improve the quantity and quality of a sustainable product. Advertising expert feedback, customer relationship information, surveys, market research, etc., can contribute to sustainable product development through integration into the updated product design monitoring process. Can say that integrating a design thinking system with the customer experience in sustainable product design creates a valuable strategy and other factors such as marketing and sales. When our approach is based on the sustainable development of a product from the production stage to the market, the competitiveness in the market increases, and we can experience a strong presence in the market by relying on customers' needs and their expectations of a sustainable product. On the other hand, updates based on customer feedback, suggestions, and experiences and evaluated at all stages can pave the way for specialized sales channels to reach the target. Customer experience in agricultural businesses is significant due to the alignment of sustainability goals in the agricultural sector. It can help reduce food waste, improve the distribution cycle, and optimize the production and implementation system.

Author: Majid Zamanshoar

Editor: Henry Mitchell