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Special issue on local food products and systems/Numéro spécial sur les produits et systèmes agroalimentaires locaux

Hyper-real territories and urban markets: changing conventions for local food – case studies from France and Norway –

Virginie Amilien, Fatiha Fort and Nicolas Ferras


Based on case studies in France and Norway, this article compares the conventions of local foods through an analysis of the meanings and representations of Signs of Identification of Quality and Origin (SIQO) in institutional frameworks, marketing claims and consumer perceptions. Because consumers are the ultimate target of most marketing campaigns, we investigated the ways in which advertisements convey the idea of ‘local’ to the consumer. We then analysed consumer conceptions of two currently popular local cheeses, chosen to highlight differences and similarities between the two countries. Qualitative understandings of consumer perceptions of ‘local food’ are interpreted in relation to Salais and Storpers’ Worlds of Production and Baudrillard’s ‘hyper-reality’ construct. This approach demonstrates the importance of remaining aware of the dynamic nature of conventions, and the need to redefine terminology such as proximity, or local, to reflect the inherent conflict between local rural identity and urban existence.

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Editor's notes

Acknowledgements: This article has been written within the project ‘Consumer Conceptions of Local Food’ supported by the French-Norwegian Foundation. Many thanks to colleagues from SIFO and to Georgina Holt for constructive comments.

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1The concept of ‘local food products’ is obviously associated with ‘locality’ and place, but through many different perspectives. In its broadest sense, a ‘local food product’ is a food that is typically linked to an identified location either through geography, know-how or tradition. On the one hand local products can merely relate to closeness (meaning farm products from the local area), making the local aspect quite physical and concrete. On the other hand local products can relate to origin and cover different types of localised, or re-localised, food products that often add value through quality1. In the market itself, the notion of origin and quality are often emphasized by a label. Local food products can use different signs to point out to the consumer what makes them special but many of them do not refer to any established system of quality. Signs of Identification of Quality and Origin (SIQO) are one of the pillars of the new European agricultural policy and help to structure the European agro-food market. SIQO are often explicitly or implicitly linked to the concept of local and geographical origin and have proved popular as a means of encouraging consumer awareness, thereby providing producers with a better return than non-labelled products.2

2During the past 20 years, SIQO labels have become increasingly important to the production, distribution and consumption of food. They are highlighted in public debate, regulation and legislation, and, increasingly associated to marketing strategies and consumer perceptions and practices. Products using SIQO also include those made by small-scale producers and processors of regional foods. SIQO may be based on a territorial approach through Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)3, or on a product-quality approach (eg ‘Label Rouge’, ‘Spesialitet’, etc). Regulations were carefully worded in order to protect producers from the risks of forgery and competition. Conflicts and ambiguities between regulations, labels, consumers and markets are the reason why this article will approach local food products from a SIQO perspective, specifically focusing on quality labels and indications of origin.

3The term terroir, meaning a type of ‘origin-linked product’, is a typically French concept that emerged at the beginning of the last century and embraces temporal, spatial and human dimensions. Bérard and Marchenay described it as ‘a dynamic process that helps to represent the link between time, human beings and spaces4. Lagrange et al.5 suggested that the territorial reputation of a product is more often derived from a mixture of messages rather than the actual geography or culture, thereby explaining the apparent contradiction between dimensions. Some French authors perceive terroir as the relationship between origin (geography, climate), culture (time and tradition) and know-how, where know-how is a diachronic perspective encompassing both old and new knowledge6. A number of studies have linked the growth of the terroir concept with various crises in food safety in the closing decades of the 20th century. Some suggest that the explosion in demand for food products carrying a guarantee of product quality and origin7, is the result of increasing consumer concerns. Others link the emergence of terroir products to a social identity crisis8. This debate emphasizes that SIQO are not only important in the food market, but also in a scientific debate dominated by economists, sociologists and marketing researchers as well as jurists and ethnologists9.

4Various reports have tried to delimit and define the concept of origin-linked products10 and produits de terroir11. Despite this, the term, ‘local food products’, as used in public discourse, remains a black box notion, commonly used by market actors who have neither the need nor the means to define it. Market researchers are currently developing an area of ‘terroir products marketing’ built on the idea that the consumer is on a quest for identity. Fort and Fort consider that the terroir is marketed by and for local actors based on local marketing ‘recipes’12. Moreover, local food is not just a legally protected product but also a successful social construct combining ‘natural’ and ‘social’ factors13. This article therefore provides a preliminary analysis of the diverse and conflicting meanings and representations of local food products, based on case studies in two EU countries –Norway, where the official SIQO system is very new, and France which has one of the oldest.

5Local people apart, most consumers learn about a local product through information leaflets, first-hand experience as a tourist, or advertising and marketing campaigns. Few quantitative studies have focused on the way in which consumers perceive the concept of local, most likely due to the complexity of the subject. However, there is a common belief among stakeholders in both France and Norway that consumers are increasingly interested in products of origin and SIQO. To better understand the concept and meaning of local products in both of these countries, we will look at institutional frameworks, producer and distributor understanding, consumer conceptions and marketing interpretations of local product advertisements, because the role of institutions as well as communication (marketing campaigns, leaflets and advertisements) are key factors in consumption attitudes.

6The article therefore aims for a better understanding of the definition of ‘local products’, first through regulations and advertising, then through the cognitive categories used by consumers when referring to these products. This means that we are interested in all signs that can help the consumer to link a product to a given area, and in all quality labels that emphasise the association between a given foodstuff and the area in which it is produced. We conclude our case study with a model linking consumer perceptions to the conventions theory, proposed by Salais and Storper (1997). The analysis uses data from recent empirical work (2005 and 2006), including consumer research and content analysis of public discourse and commercial advertising. Preliminary discussion of research objectives produced the following four questions, relating on the one hand to document analysis and on the other to consumer feedback, as a means to guide: the analysis of text and interview data: What are the major similarities and differences between our case studies in France and Norway in terms of the representation of local food products in regulations and in marketing? What does the advertising of local food products convey to consumers, and what is its role? What differences exist between our respondents in France and Norway in terms of consumer knowledge of local food products? How can consumer perceptions be understood in terms of the ‘conventions between actors’ that surround local food products?

Legislative and marketing actors surrounding local food products in France and Norway

7The European legislative framework provides two main designations for the protection of local food quality14: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). PDO registration is for products that are firmly attached to a particular area and entirely produced and processed within that area, using locally-sourced raw materials. PGI registration is for products whose history or reputation conveys certain qualities but which are not made from locally-sourced raw materials.

8By providing a common institutional framework for agricultural policies and food markets, European legislation is key to both French and Norwegian case studies. If ‘The consumption, as well as the production process is a localised phenomenon built on close familiarity between the consumer and the product15, advertisements emphasising the unique elements or characteristics of a product, ‘may be regarded as an interpretative link between the manufacturer, food product and consumer16. We therefore identified advertising claims so as to obtain a wider view of the way in which products are presented to consumers, and examine the empirical marketing concept. Advertisements for all SIQO for the chosen local food products in France and Norway were examined in the spring of 2006.

9Studying the concept of local food through SIQO shows up two dilemmas: First, a linguistic dilemma because, even though geographical origin is central to the European legislation expressed through SIQO, the term ‘local’ appears just once in official manuscripts. That said, the wording does differentiate between ‘place of origin’ (meaning a place with links to tradition and local know-how), and ‘locality’ (meaning a purely geographical location). Secondly, an ethical dilemma because all SIQO regulations having become new common European norms, they have the potential to ‘discipline and control’ the food market (Foucault17) In spite of common regulations, European countries clearly differ significantly in their attitudes to local and quality food production, as underlined by B. Sylvander and others18. Pan-European standards, which assume that different nations share the same mentality, therefore threaten to foster ‘a mentality of imperialism’. SIQO norms are mainly based on the southern European appreciation of quality that inspired the Regulation, but this approach may prove less applicable to the very different food cultures of northern Europe. Within this framework, France is the oldest European country using quality signs and Norway is the youngest. Furthermore, the food cultures and national mentalities of Norway and France are both quite different, and this is highlighted in the evolution of Regulations protecting and controlling food in the two countries, so providing an interesting basis for comparison.

Local food: meaning and use in France

10For almost a century now, France has been creating label-based legal mechanisms that underline the link between a food product and its manufacturing place so as to promote, protect and defend local features. The creation of the first wine ‘AOC’ 19 in 1919 aimed to point out the typicity20 of different French wines. The founding of the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) in 1935 brought an opportunity to extend the AOC system, first to cheese then to other farming products. The French AOC system post-1992 must be seen in parallel with the EU system for protected designations. Scheffer21 has observed an increase in the number of protected brands in France, with 547 PDO products by 2005, especially in the wine and cheese sectors (43% for wine producers and 10% for cheese producers). Other labels, meanwhile underline the superior eating quality of food products. Quality labels include ‘Label Rouge’, Certification of Product Conformity (CPC) and ‘Produits de la Montagne’ for products of mountain origin. In recent years, large retailers have created a store brand for terroir, which consists of several regional specialities, regrouped under one brand. Large store brands have become powerful representatives of local food products through the concept of terroir. Their strategy, based on large-scale distribution of a wide variety of products, is to allow small regional production companies to market their goods over a wider area and improve sales. Small shops are the second most important market outlet for SIQO labels, accounting for 36% of sales22.

11A CREDOC study conducted in 2001 showed that 43% of French consumers knew about Label Rouge, compared to only 18% who were familiar with AB labelling (organic products), and 12% who knew about AOC23. A BVA study (n=1,000) on ‘the food brand closest associated to agriculture’, found that of the 60% who responded, 19% of respondents quoted SIQO, 18% AB and organic food labels, 2% Label Rouge, and 2% other labels24. Boizot-Szantai et al.25 suggest that consumers are confused by the profusion of quality signs, but this may be linked to the type of product involved. Wine and cheese are more easily linked to AOC, while meat (especially poultry) is particularly associated with Label Rouge. However, development of the ‘local’ concept varies with the consumption context and consumer segment. A new marketing strategy aimed at improving consumer perceptions of French SIQO and making the system more efficient might encourage local food actors to value their products more. Bérard and Marchenay26 for example, observe that terror products appeal to two different types of French consumer: local, informed consumers with a specific interest in terroir products and how to cook them; and non-local, less informed consumers who are simply following the fashionable trend for local foods.

12In France, the marketing of local food products relies mainly on the concept of terroir as a way of getting consumers to connect with the idea of local products. Advertising local food is not only a means to increase sales but can also be used to communicate the terroir concept27. The first two dimensions of terroir are geographical and cultural criteria. Both are characteristic of local food advertisements, such as the TV commercial for ‘Roquefort’ showing traditional cheese-making in a typically ‘Larzac’ landscape. Likewise, advertisements for Pélardon cheese place considerable emphasis on tradition, know-how, and the features typical of a particular location. Such concepts appear on every page of ‘Nostalgia for a Golden Age', an advertising flier based on the belief that production methods and food products were better in the past - an attractive marketing image. Use of the term ‘tradition’ in new brand names applying for registration by the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle, increased from 10% in 1980 to 70% in 200028. Some large brands, such as the store terroir brand, create an image of proximity through advertising (e.g. Leclerc’s ‘Nos régions ont du talent’ (‘our talented regions’), which experienced more than a 13% market growth in 2004). Although their main strength is quality of taste, most Label Rouge poultry products also play on geographical origin because the label is unable to sustain a niche market share based on quality alone29. However, PDO and PGI marketing campaigns tend to rely more on typicity and tradition than on geographical origin (or taste). PDO marketing also makes more use of written media than other SIQO (which generally confine their use of leaflets and flyers to the sales outlet- supermarket information boards, for instance). Two-thirds of managers used advertising to promote PDO and quality labels, compared to less than half those in charge of a CPC. The promotion of CPC is principally based on safety criteria, while AB organic labelling is the only label to refer specifically to environmental protection30.

13Even though terroir and tradition are often used in the advertising of local food-product, they do not necessarily reveal the realities of production. After reviewing regional and national magazines, most references to tradition were found in advertisements for national and international brands. The same was true of websites for food products. For instance, the website for ‘Chaumes cheese’, a brand owned by the industrial group Bongrain SA31, uses terms like ‘typicity’, ‘authenticity’ and ‘rusticity’32. Advertisements with more concrete ideas of tradition, know-how and origin tend to be used by large brands that are hardly consistent with the concepts they promote; according to Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra, the local aspect of the product then becomes ‘hyper-real’33. Conversely, the ‘actual’ product on sale in the local market needs neither branding nor marketing. Benkahla demonstrated that the Pélardon PDO confers no added value when the cheese is sold by small-scale producers in local markets34. This indicates that consumers in local outlets such as farmers’ markets, who know and trust the producer, are not concerned with PDO labelling. However, when the cheese is sold outside local markets, the PDO sign confers an added-value of at least 30%. SIQO therefore add real value outside the area of local production but not necessarily within it35. In fact, PDO products are more represented in international sales than within local territory. Furthermore, although communication and marketing have been essential elements of local food products, the collective management of the terroir image is now vital in order to achieve synergy between different economic approaches.

Local food: meaning and use in Norway

14Norway has witnessed a revival of local food products in the past decade, in spite of, or because of, an agricultural policy that was conventionally focused on mass production. The new agricultural strategy arising from EU guidelines has inspired a government programme focused on quality food production, including support for local food production36. A regulation system in accordance with EU legislation was introduced for agricultural products in July 2002, followed two years later, by one for fish and seafood. The rules are administered by the Norwegian Food Branding Foundation on behalf of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, which itself comes under the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Since October 2006, nine products have won PGI protections while a further two are registered PDOs37. A MMI study about consumer’s knowledge and interest in products of origin conducted in 2006 for Matmerk, showed that 11% of Norwegian consumers could remember having seen the quality label ‘Spesialitet’, compared to 3,5% who identified the PDO/PGI logos (although only a few of them really knew about their meaning linked to designated origin)38.

15The most visible difference between Norway and France is in the shop itself, at the distribution level. Norway has four distributor chains which together tend to create a monopoly, fostering a restrictive, prescriptive view of food distribution – particularly in such a relatively small national market. This may explain why Norway has neither a national nor a distributor-owned local terroir brand. Apart from isolated experiences like Beineveien39, or a recent initiative where four shops in Western Norway opened ‘a local market’ inside the food stores, selling products with their own barcodes40, the distribution system as yet shows no interest in local food products. Some producers have had to create their own associations based on joint marketing and common interests. For example, 12 local producers from Hadeland have been collaborating for the past 10 years despite substantial challenges in terms of labour input and conflicts. In addition, new urban farmers’ markets, ‘Bondens market’, are now held about once a month in the largest Norwegian cities.

16The most efficient promotion of local foods in Norway is nowadays institutionalised and usually supported by public sector funding. The Agricultural and Food Department directly and indirectly promotes the small-scale production of food products41, often linked to the innovation and promotion of new products. Additionally, the Norwegian Food Branding Foundation is responsible for promoting labelled products through printed and online campaigns and leaflets, in co-operation with producers. One recent major event was the ‘Matstreif’, a food festival held in Oslo in June 2005 to celebrate 100 years of Norwegian independence small producers throughout the country came to present their regional products. This first event was such a success that the festival is now held ‘annually’, reorganised as a huge farmer’s market in June 200642. A certain amount of marketing is also conducted by private food companies with a stake in the SIQO system.

17Besides advertisements for everyday quality foods that are mainly based on health claims (i.e. less sugar and/or fat) but unconnected with any local concept, we found few Norwegian advertisements and promotions for local food products. Taste and tradition are at the heart of marketing campaigns, and communication plays on the link between tradition and innovation by juxtaposing Norwegian natural treasures with new cooking methods43. ‘Local’ tends to be used to emphasize the fact that products come from nearby areas, as expressed here by the Minister of Agriculture: ‘protected designation of origin is an important strategy […] based on strong local traditions and specialities that create favourable conditions for adding value to local products44. However, by linking local tradition to economic development, the New Norwegian agricultural policy emphasises one pillar of EU reform whilst overlooking the most important aspects of protected designations, these being of a social rather than an economic order45, and built on protection rather than promotion. Ultimately this political vision of SIQO produces two types of local food marketing in Norway. As observed, the first and most common type of marketing is economically and ethically supported by government policy and based on European ‘mental imperialism’. The second type of marketing is a rare, more recent phenomenon based on the concept of terroir and is represented by the Farmers Union. Communication lauds the non-pasteurised cheese that is mostly forbidden by Norwegian legislation, and promotes respect for the biodiversity that creates an opportunity for the cheese y to reflect the local soil and landscape46.

Consumer perceptions of local food products

18In order to draw adequate comparisons between Norwegian and French consumers, we selected several different products from both countries, including two typical cheese products that have been granted or applied for PDO registration: Pélardon des Cévennes (France) and Gamalost from Vik (Norway). In-depth interviews focusing on these two products were held with producers, retailers and consumers; here, however, we concentrate on consumer perceptions. To increase our knowledge of consumer opinions and attitudes towards these local products in France we used face-to-face interviews based on a questionnaire for stratified analysis, whilst in Norway we conducted four focus groups of 6-9 persons each. The results from both sources were analysed using the thematic method47, and in the next section these themes are further analysed using a ‘conventions-based’ theoretical model48.

Local food for French consumers of Pélardon – case study –

19The first dimension of local food quality given by French respondents was product origin. Origin includes geography, tradition, producer know-how and cognitive, although not necessarily purchasing, proximity. Pélardon consumers indicated that a key factor in their perception of local products was proximity/closeness. But this is expressed through affinity with the product and producer rather than affinity with the product’s region of origin. Nevertheless, closeness between people and region appears to be as much of a key element as closeness between product and producer. Asked about the type of region they associated with local products, French consumers emphasized the importance of direct contact. Four categories of region were described: 1) region of origin, 2) consumer home region, 3) consumer region of residence, and 4) consumer holiday region. The place of purchasing was a major factor in the perception of Pelardon cheese49. There was a strong relationship between typicity and the place of purchase, as a product did not have the same local meaning if it was sold in a local market, a farm or a supermarket. In addition, the local product described by French consumers was closely associated with local know-how and natural qualities50. In other words, the connotation of local products suggest a combination of tradition and regional livelihoods – purchasing this kind of product enhances social involvement by supporting small producers and local development.

Local food for Norwegian consumers of Gamalost – case study –

20In Norway however, respondents had no firm idea of either ‘local’ or ‘terroir’51. They knew about local food products through direct contact with producers, as opposed to contact with a store brand or other SIQO. Place of purchase was therefore not a readily visible factor, and, perhaps due to their absence from the regular distribution system, local food products are not yet a focus of consumer interest. In fact, national surveys indicate that the most important considerations for Norwegian consumers are taste and freshness, not the origin of foods52. Our fieldwork on Gamalost in Vik suggests that preference for local food is mostly based on closeness and tradition. Short distance was associated with closeness and implied a greater trust in producers, decreased pollution and improved conditions for animal livestock. The traditional nature of the product, as demonstrated by the fact that local people have been consuming this cheese for many generations, was more important than origin per se. Although many rural people living closed to Vik enjoy eating Gamalost, there remains a gap in our results linking geographical location with a given product. Consumer age is also relevant since the majority of Gamalost buyers are older. Another major difference is between rural and urban consumers, and between ‘Gamalost enthusiasts’ and ordinary consumers. The local products described by rural Norwegian consumers were locally produced. Rural consumers of Gamalost stated that important factors in the purchasing of local products were sustainable affinity, through proximity or a short-distance supply chain, -political affinity, and personal affinity with the producer(s). The latter was linked to confidence in product quality, trust in animal welfare and environmental standards, quality of life for producers, and potential for rural development. However, urban consumers who were not personally acquainted with producers also stressed the need for rural development and sustainability. The fact that the food was not industrially produced played a more important role than product origin. At that level, consumer knowledge about manufactured goods played a pivotal role in their perceptions. ‘Ordinary’ consumers based their beliefs on advertising and product packaging, and consequently associated local products with SIQO. ‘Local enthusiasts’, on the other hand, knew which local products were in fact industrially produced and used their knowledge in a positive way to domestically adapt the cheese by physical transformation and mental adaptation (consumers ‘appropriate’ the cheese, using different techniques like maturing in alcohol or ripping in coffee). In this group, the cognitive references were to tradition, know-how, and childhood and family food habits.

Table 1: Summary of institutional representations of local food quality


Marketing strategy


PDO/PGI (547)
National terroir brands
Terroir products
Label Rouge

Nostalgia / Tradition
Quality /Region
Quality /Safety
Organic food


PDO /PGI (11)
Spesialitet (quality label)
Urban open markets
Terroir emergent concept
Debio label

Traditional process
Quality / Speciality
Sustainable/local food/short distance
Continuing food habits/conservation
Organic food

Consumer perceptions of local food quality

21In general, the similarities between consumer perceptions of local food products in France and Norway revolved around associations of proximity, regional identity and ‘know-how’. Nevertheless, we found differences in the cognitive elements used to describe common associations. French consumers used connotations based on taste, nostalgia, beliefs and representations. Norwegian consumers used elements based more on rationalisation including distance, economic support for the district, and sustainability. In both countries, however, urban consumers, who generally have greater cultural and economic clout, felt a similar need for tradition, naturalness and ‘a taste of days gone by’, when purchasing local food products. Moreover, these differences in food cultures and cognitions revealed a paradox in both countries. On the one hand there are experimental situations in which a product is produced, sold and consumed. On the other hand, there is a perceptual world in which consumers can experience ‘ruralities’ and traditional ties in a hyper-real context – i.e. supermarket products based on certification and labelling. This creates an interesting form of conflict because the possibility for mass production is opposed to the concept of terroir and tends to compensate for loss of proximity as distributor-owned and retail brands gain market share.

22The consumer perception of local food builds upon different implicit rules, or conventions. In one group of consumers, as well as for in individual consumers, perceptions of local food depended on the particular contexts. Although the concept of ‘real’ can easily be linked to individual experiences and knowledge, the ‘hyper-real’ concept seems to be a more global vision. Both concepts build upon each other: they express different authenticities, they refer to different markets and situations but they nevertheless exist precisely because of one another. Our consumer interviews reveal that while local food consumers can differentiate between reality and hyper reality, the non local consumer, lacking adequate experience and information, tends to take for granted the local dimensions promoted through brands and labels, such as tradition, know- how and cultural identity. Depending on the consumption context (i.e. daily vs. feast consumption patterns, local consumer vs. tourist, local market vs. hyper-market, etc.), consumers will perceive local as meaning a real proximity or as an imaginary proximity. Different comprehensions, from different worlds, generate different conventions, because actors in the market network also vary. This raises the question of whether new, urban open markets, emphasizing a desire for urban citizens to rediscover closer proximity with producers, are in fact a link between rural local reality and urban hyper-reality.

A Conventions-based interpretation of representations and consumer perceptions

23This empirical approach to local food can also be understood in reference to the conventions theory53, and particularly within conventions of quality based on experiences and implicit knowledge, as illustrated by Boltanski and Thévenot (1991). A convention is a type of dynamic socially-balanced interaction, based not only on power relations or institutional decisions but also on a set of regulations built on common preferences and attitudes. Conventions constitute a system of rules that all involved actors respect and follow, and which are ‘taken for granted and to which everybody submits without reflection, the result of an agreement (a contract), or even a founding moment (such as the Constitutional Convention). Thus convention refers to the simultaneous presence of … rules and spontaneous action, constructing agreements between persons and institutions in situations of collective action54. Storper and Salais emphasize the dynamism of convention, when they define it as ‘an agreement in the sense of a common context: a set of points of reference which goes beyond the actors as individuals but which they nonetheless build and understand in the course of their actions55.

24Based on the conventions theory, Salais and Storper56 proposed a model created from two coordinates or axes: one linking dedicated to generic production and the other extending from specialised to standardised production. The model creates four ‘worlds of production’: Industrial (standardised, generic), Market (standardised, dedicated), Interpersonal (specialised, dedicated) and Intellectual (specialised, generic). A world is defined as a common context that each actor supposes is well known to other actors and where he/she can situate his/her action57. Murdoch and Miele58 applied such a framework to food-product case studies, demonstrating that food products can evolve from one world to another as they respond to consumer demand59.

25In reference to Salais and Storper’s possible worlds of production, there could also be ‘worlds of conceptions’ of local food. In this way, the ‘local’ quality construct can also be defined as ‘a convention between actors working together to construct a link to the local area’60. Whether real or hyper real, arguing that the perception of local is a convention between different actors in a defined frame, we could deepen our perspectives on local food. These ‘worlds’ can be represented through two axes. One axis, based on Salais and Storper’s original, specialised-to-standardised axis can be found in the production dimension, from hand-crafted to industrial: Hand-crafted Industrial. This represents a dimension of product complexity. A second dedicated-to-generic axis can be found in the spatial dimension, from Direct sale at farm or market Supermarket or hypermarket which as reflected in labelling extends from local as ‘terroir’ to local as ‘hyper real territory’. The spatial axis may also be understood as a synchronic dimension whilst the production axis represents a diachronic function.

26However, our analysis of local food products shows a more complex web of relationships than that suggested by these two axes alone. A complementary synchronic dimension overlaying the production axis represents the transition from nature to culture. This may be understood in terms of rurality and also simplicity. Similarly, a complementary diachronic dimension overlays the spatial axis and represents the reality of experiencing local food. This axis is built on the ‘reality’ of the product and/or market experience. In other words, the ‘local’ concept evolves from a real, original proximity to the sale of proximity through non-proximate chains, i.e. from reality to hyper-reality. For the rural consumer, the quality of the local food product is determined by proximity, through confidence in a familiar producer and the area in which he/she lives. Purchasing habits based on trust may then be regarded as an almost concrete local convention. Equally however, we see a rise in the number of open urban markets. Thus the local food-quality convention can act to guide the urban consumer back down the axis linking the urban consumer to local producers and the food knowledge myth, to experience (blue arrow, Figure 1).

Figure 1: Possible worlds of conceptions of local food products: consumer perception in relation to market outlet.

Figure 1: Possible worlds of conceptions of local food products: consumer perception in relation to market outlet.

27This conventions-based analysis can shed light on the debate by emphasising, not only the importance of the entire network of supporting actors – production, distribution, marketing and consumer perceptions- but also the need for more complex yet comprehensive definitions of local food terminology such as the term proximity when applied at broader than local levels. In Table 2 below we distinguish four worlds of conceptions that underline the complexity of local food consumption analysis, because understanding of, and relationship to, local food diverge in function of the different worlds, and builds on conventions between different actors involved in its respective possible world.

Table 2: Conventions of quality based on worlds of local food products.

Table 2: Conventions of quality based on worlds of local food products.


28Local foods are hybrid products resulting from both cultural and technical changes, thereby representing a unique cultural system. Due to the hybrid derivation of local foods as a creation of both natural and cultural phenomena, describing the relationship between spatial and temporal actors of local food products is both culturally and linguistically complex. Marketing specialists are interested in the cultural framework that is associated with different symbolic appreciations of local products, as a means of representing a key value concept in local food product advertising. But for local consumers for example, proximity alludes to a dimension of distance that adds value to local foods. These are seen as sustainable foods, both through the concept of food miles and through the associated smaller scale of production implied by proximity, in contrast to the industrial agro-food production typical of long-distance food chains.

29However, the term ‘local’ refers not only to a particular rural space but also to a territory that is not geographically limited but may be linked to the product through a proximate cultural network involving both human know-how and nature or distant consumer relationships. ‘Local’ is a social and institutional construct. For the urban consumer, the perception of the quality of local food products is structured by legislative frameworks, agricultural policies and marketing discourse. These consumers refer to an idealised vision of local products where origin, like terroir, is linked to many added values such as tradition and nature, but at an imaginary level or through a ‘borrowed’ reality. However, this borrowed or hyper-reality plays an important role in driving demand for urban, local open markets, run by real producers, a phenomenon that is on the rise both in France and Norway. Similar developments are the Bondensmarket in Trondheim and the new market of ‘La place Carnot’ in Lyon, a successful initiative despite strong competition from retailers. This new hyper real world is generated by new conventions what makes local food a chameleon concept that changes its meaning as it moves through different networks and contexts.

30Since consumers vary in their reported perceptions and usage of the term ‘local food’ as they interact with the marketplace and as conventions evolve, we can expect further refining and redefinition of the ‘local’ concept. It is then important to remain aware of the dynamic nature of conventions, and of the need to redefine terminology such as proximity, or local, to reflect the inherent conflict between local rural identity and urban existence.

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1 Local and other alternative foods are often linked to quality in popular discourse and in scientific publications See for example Goodman 2003, writing about the ‘quality turn’
2 See Loureiro, M.L. & Umberger, W.J. 2003
3 We refer here to the three official European signs: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG).
4 Bérard L. et Marchenay P. 2004 p. 112, un « processus dynamique » qui « aide à penser le lien entre le temps […] les hommes […] et les espaces »
5 Lagrange L. et al., 1995
6 Authors like Aurier P, Sirieix L., Fort F. 2004, Dekhili S. et D’Hauteville F. 2006.
7 Loisel J.P. and Couvreur A. 2001, Bérard L. et Marchenay P. 2004
8 See for example Fischler C. 1990 or Poulain J.P. 2006
9 See for example Barjolle & Sylvander 2000, Bérard & Marchenay 2004, Anthropology of Food n.5 2004, and most of the references in bibliography.
10 EU FAIR project ‘PDO and PGI Products: Market, Supply Chains and Institutions’ (CT95-0305), EU FP5 Concerted Action DOLPHINS (Development of Origin Labelled Products: Humanity, Innovation and Sustainability) (QLK-2000-00593) for instance.
11 Bérard et Marchenay 2004
12 « le marketing de terroir se “fabrique” et se“ met en scène” par et pour les acteurs locaux, à partir de “recettes locales” de marketing. » Fort & Fort 2006 p. 8
13 Murdoch and al 2000
14 EC Regulation No. 2081/92 and 2082/92; Traditional Speciality Guaranteed is another designated protection for specific production and processing traditions, but there is no specific commitment to geographic origin and TSG are not therefore considered in this study.
15 Bérard et Marchenay, 2004 p.158 –our traduction « la consommation, tout comme le processus de production, est un phénomène localisé qui passe par une grande familiarité entre le consommateur et le produit »
16 Lien M., 1995 p.161 and 162 about Norwegian Food Advertising.
17 Foucault M. 1975 (par exemple partie III)
18 See AOF n°4, 2005 (online at, or for example Thiedig and Sylvander 2000 or Barjolle and Sylvander 2000.
19 Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée
20 Refering to the special features due to the fact that wine is produced and made in a particular place.
21 Scheffer 2002
22 Scheffer 2002
23 online at : , but also referred to in Loisel & Couvreur 2001
24 BVA 2003
25 Boizot-Szantai et al. 2004 page 2
26 Bérard et Marchenay 2004
27 Aurier 2004
28 Scheffer 2002
29 Bardou 1997
30 As written in CREDOC, 2001
31 One of the industrial dairy groups in Europe
32 The advertisement of “Bayonne salt” based on local nature and know-how, in the number 108 of “Cuisine et vin”. It is also surprising since this salt is owned by the brand “Cérébos”, which is not typical of the Basque country.
33 Reference to the concept of hyper-reality in “Simulacra” of Jean Baudrillard –Baudrillard 1981, (p.9-69 and 93-113)
34 Benkahla et al. 2005
35 Agreste n°79, 2005
36 Verdiskapningsprogrammet for matproduksjon
38 Matmerks markedsundersøkelse sept.-okt. ’06, Nettverksamling 31.10.2006, with many thanks to Matmerk who let us use these datas
39 That has been called for “New marketing channels for food quality products” (Jervell and Borgen 2004). More info
40 “Fire butikker på Vestlandet åpner egne lokalmattorg” announced on the 09th of March 2007, online at
41 The Agricultural and Food Ministry also encouraged cooperation between local food producers and mountain cabins. Small producers can apply to ‘Innovation Norway’ for support in developing local food products.
43 Like in “Kulturdagar ved Gardmillon” where they “combine tradition with new ideas to develop local specialities with exciting taste”. p. 1.
44 “We eat food, but we buy stories”, Norwegian Food Branding Foundation leaflet for promoting the protection of origin, page p. 2. 2005
45 See Barjolle D. and Sylander B. 2000 for example.
46 Leaflet from Undredal stølysteri 2005
47 See Glaser and Strauss
48 Salais and Storper
49 What also explains the creation of brands like “Marché de producteurs de pays” by the Aveyron Chamber of Agriculture, which has been made to organise “local” open markets and guarantee quality and proximity to consumers due to the adhesion of a quality charter by producers.
50 We can note observe a generational difference. The new generation (less than 25 y.o.) seems to have another vision concerning this respect of tradition, evidenced by only 35% claiming that agriculture must respect traditions in comparison to 63% for participants greater than 65 y.o. (BVA survey 2003)
51 It is the reason why we never used those concepts, but we systematically began the interviews by tasting a product of origin together. Discussions followed.
52 From MMI Spisefakta 2006
53 Lewis K.D 1969, Boltanski and Thévenot 1991, Storper M. and Salais R. 1997
54 Salais and Storper 1993 p.17
55 p.16 english version
56 Salais and Storper 1993 - Chapter 2, especially 2.3. table on page 43.
57 Salais and Storper 1993, p.16 –french version-
58 Murdoch and Miele 1999
59 In another model, Tregear classifies local food products into five types based on their age and form:
60 « La qualité d’un produit est une convention entre les acteurs qui co-ordonnent sa réalisation » in Stanziani 2004. p. 289
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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1: Possible worlds of conceptions of local food products: consumer perception in relation to market outlet.
File image/jpeg, 28k
Title Table 2: Conventions of quality based on worlds of local food products.
File image/jpeg, 28k
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Electronic reference

Virginie Amilien, Fatiha Fort and Nicolas Ferras, « Hyper-real territories and urban markets: changing conventions for local food – case studies from France and Norway – », Anthropology of food [Online], S2 | March 2007, Online since 19 April 2007, connection on 22 June 2018. URL :

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About the authors

Virginie Amilien

SIFO, National Institute for Consumption research, Oslo, Norway (contact person)

By this author

Fatiha Fort

ENSAM- UMR MOISA, University of Montpellier, France

By this author

Nicolas Ferras

ENSAM, University of Montpellier, France

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Licence Creative Commons
Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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