A cross-disciplinary, transnational and participative approach to Alpine food cultural heritage

Identification of best practices in the collective commercial valorisation of Alpine Food Intangible Cultural Heritage

If appropriately promoted, Alpine Food Heritage con generate jobs, businesses, innovation that is resonant with tradition, and sustainable development. In this part of the AlpFoodway project, we identified some best practices in the valorisation of the Alpine food heritage.

Mapping Intangible Cultural Heritage Alpine Food commercial valorisation practices and designing field studies

In this preliminary activity, we identified good and bad practices of Alpine Food Heritage valorisation through secondary data (news media, online sources, academic research). This resulted in a map of the practices and organisations that have succeeded in turning the Alpine Food Heritage into marketable offers (products, experiences and attractions; territorial brands, collective marketing organisations and other promotional approaches; heritage-consistent chefs, restaurants, and distributors; festival and cultural events; periodic marketplaces and trade fairs). Thanks to this mapping, we could also obtain an initial understanding of main obstacles to and facilitating factors in the valorisation of the Alpine Food Heritage, which provide the input for subsequent activities based on the gathering of primary data (field studies, digital ethnography).

2 - Field studies of relevant cases of success

In this stage, we conducted in-depth studies of selected success cases in the valorisation of the Alpine Food Heritage thanks to mixed methods which included interviews with key actors; field observations at farms, food production sites, restaurants, stores, festivals, tourist attractions, periodic markets, and trade fairs; and the analysis of promotional material and internal documents and online consumer conversations. The work permitted to go beyond the limits of secondary sources and reconstruct key internal processes and market dynamics. We examined field studies of different typologies. These field studies collectively represent the AlpFoodway Deliverable D.T2.2.1

Digital ethnography of market responses and consumer meanings

With this activity, we conducted a mixed qualitative and quantitative study based on an innovative research method, digital ethnography, of content posted on social media to identify consumer responses to and appreciation of Alpine Food Heritage. The objects of our analysis were four products (Fontina cheese, Arnad Lard, Raclette of Valais, and Tyrolean Graukäse), two cultural events (Désarpa and the Festa de lo Pan Ner) and one tourist destination (Aosta Valley). We focused predominantly on Instagram (IG), even though, in the case of Aosta Valley, we extended our enquiry to TripAdvisor (TA) restaurant reviews. The nature of the study was exploratory, as no previous research has investigated how consumers and other users make sense of intangible cultural heritage on social media.

We found that most aspects of the Alpine Food Heritage are invisible on social media, since the production spaces, people and practices behind finished products and the dishes prepared with them are often removed from the consumers’ eyes. Instagram users sometimes considers products as typical or traditional of an area, but their posts do not go much beyond #foodporn and look unaware of how differences in production methods might affect product taste. Small producers are mostly absent from the online conversations, as often are their collective marketing organisations. Only a minority of product-related hashtags contain heritage-sensitive posts (e.g., fontinadop vs. the ‘generic’ fontina). Finally, festivals and restaurants are key sites enabling locals and tourists to learn about an area’s food heritage. Cultural events and festivals can create a visible link between an area’s productive landscapes and sites and local food, in ways that lend themselves to produce pictures and video to be posted on Instagram. Tripadvisor reviews often refers to restaurants as places where typical or traditional cuisine can be tasted. Based on these findings, in the conclusion of our report we develop various managerial implications for the successful valorisation of the Alpine Food Heritage.

Documents and results

Comparative analysis and development of educational, policy & managerial guidelines

In this concluding stage of the work, we developed educational, policy and managerial guidelines for educational institutions, policy makers, and food heritage actors on how to valorise Alpine food heritage. These recommendations are based on a comparative analysis of the main findings from our desk research, field studies, and digital ethnography of social media. They also integrate key insights from the AlpFoodway WP T1 (inventorying and legal safeguarding through intellectual property rights) and T3 (pilot actions) and provide a more in-depth description of some of the principles and guidelines laid down in the AlpFoodway Charter of the Alpine Food Heritage and Vision Paper on the Alpine Food Heritage that the WP T4 (networking and awareness) has developed based on input from all other WPs. Thanks to data from numerous organisations and communities obtained from different disciplinary bases (marketing, consumer culture theory, anthropology, legal studies, etc.), it was possible to identify best practices, typical competence gaps, and develop guidelines for actors involved in the commercial valorisation of Alpine food heritage. To illustrate how to implement these guidelines in a concrete manner, our final deliverable and output briefly reports several best practices from Alpine regions in France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Slovenia.

Managerial Guidelines for Farmers, Food Producers, and their Collective Organisations
1. Set fair prices that respect the dignity of work and the cultural value of heritage products
2. Adopt heritage-sensitive collective marketing approaches
3. Invest time, money and effort to develop marketing skills, particularly in the domain of digital marketing
4. Protect intellectual property rights and integrate legal protection with marketing strategies
5. Innovate in a heritage-resonant manner;
6. Communicate heritage through digital and experiential storytelling
7. Educate the taste of consumers and influencers
8. Cooperate with restaurants, tourism businesses, and distributors to promote local food culture

Educational Guidelines
1. Integrate educational modules related to local heritage know-how into primary and secondary school programmes to guarantee the intergenerational transmission of the Alpine food heritage
2. Diversify school meals with heritage dishes made with products from local suppliers
3. Create vocational and lifelong learning training to help young people and adults learn valuable heritage skills
4. Integrate Alpine food heritage bearers as instructors and testimonials in educational initiatives with hands-on and experiential learning approaches
5. Facilitate knowledge transfer and interaction with practitioners from other Alpine areas
6. Develop heritage producers’ complementary skills in the areas of marketing, management, and intellectual property right protection

7. Raise public awareness about food heritage and educate the taste of consumers, including new generations, new inhabitants, and migrants

Policy Guidelines
1. Establish and fund policies that recognize food as an important element of the local/regional/national cultural heritage and identity
2. Create formal and informal mechanisms of coordination between all policies in support of food heritage
3. Simplify administrative requirements and allow flexibility in hygiene rules for small heritage farmers and artisanal food producers to account for their cultural significance
4. Support and fund cultural and scientific institutions’ research on Alpine food heritage
5. Help food heritage communities and producers document their traditional knowledge
6. Establish heritage-sensitive geographical indications
7. Support and promote territorial brands
8. Support and promote the development of tourism experiences and attractions, festivals and cultural events, trade fairs and periodic marketplaces that promote and celebrate the Alpine Food Heritage