The Sustainable Marketing Concept in European SMEs

Cover of The Sustainable Marketing Concept in European SMEs

Insights from the Food & Drink Industry



Table of contents

(14 chapters)

Part I The Theoretical Basis for the Development of Sustainability Marketing Concept in SMEs


The volatile and ambiguous state of the global economy is changing prerequisites in the corporate environment paradigm. Contemporary small- and medium-sized businesses fill in the gaps in the value chains originally created by big businesses. Such a change in the global environment is calling for a completely new system of values bringing on new challenges for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The smart solution to overcome the barriers might be found in the course of sustainable development. The idea of sustainable development of the world economy was originally developed by large corporations and governments of different countries based on scarcity and irresponsible use of natural resources. The corporate approach is to gain positive economic effect through implementation of large-scale projects to transform business models. The society, as the main recipient of the ‘products’ of business and state activities, represents its interests in a heterogeneous way; In fact, there is ample evidence this is due to a number of social, economic, political and cross-cultural factors. In correlation with the above-mentioned vectors of interests of global stakeholders, the implementation of sustainable development policies includes the development of new products; the reorganization of production, incentive and process assessment systems; as well as leading cross-functional organizational changes. Despite the commitment of senior management and institutional efforts to spread the concept of sustainable development via global corporations, practical cases are often characterized by organizational resistance and inertia. According to some authors, cultural, structural and routine communications – emerging at different corporate levels – become agents of influence on large, medium and small firms (Banerjee, 2008). Such a combination of economic and social processes forms a special environment for the development of contemporary SMEs in Europe. The chapter pinpoints the challenges and drivers for SMEs’ development in an ambiguous environment, as well as the prerequisites for the formation of sustainable development of the business as a state of art.


Upon reviewing relevant literature, this chapter aims to give an insight into the importance and popularity of the concept of sustainable development. Accordingly, the chapter provides an insight into the evolution and development of the concept of sustainable development, its various definitions, key dimensions and fundamental indicators, with an overview of the progress on key issues that are important economically, socially and environmentally. The chapter concludes with the principles needed in order to seek sustainability and the advantages of practising it.


Contemporary companies are operating under challenging and volatile circumstances, but at the same time they are also conditions which provide companies with powerful opportunities on an unprecedented scale. Marketers have a key role in the process of facing these challenges. By taking a lead in the process of implementing sustainability into marketing strategies, they can create sustainable company growth. The success of this process is determined by whether or not the concept of sustainability marketing becomes fundamental in the company. Sustainability marketing should be embedded at the heart of any corporate strategy and become integral to that strategy, not just a part of it or to supplement it. The aim of this chapter is to discuss the influence of the sustainable development concept on marketing strategy. To begin with, the chapter examines how the development of this concept influenced the understanding of the essence of the functioning of modern enterprises. Next, the process of managing an organization in the context of sustainable development as well as the idea of a company’s sustainable market orientation as a source of its financial and market success are discussed. The final part focuses on identifying the role of marketing in implementing the concept of sustainable development as well as clarifying the assumptions of sustainability marketing.


As emphasized in the previous chapter, sustainability marketing entails activities that include all levels of management in small and medium enterprises; that is, strategic, operational and tactical. The role of marketing activities of a sustainable nature involves building customer satisfaction and generating profit for an enterprise, while simultaneously taking into consideration the impact of such activities on society and environment as a whole. Combining all those areas poses a serious challenge to contemporary SMEs. Nevertheless, an effective use of sustainability marketing principles enables companies to achieve the above-specified tasks and gain a strong position in the market over the long term. The nature of the relationship established with various market entities ensures that strong position, because the use of sustainability marketing is equivalent to adopting a relationship-oriented attitude.

Fulfilling the tasks of sustainability marketing requires the employment of tools from the sustainability marketing mix, which comprises the following: sustainability in product, price, distribution, promotion and personnel. The adoption of sustainable development principles by SME marketing departments does not fundamentally change the basic properties of the tools in the mix, that is their complementarity and the resultant synergy effect, but it expands the scope of their impact on the society and environment. This chapter presents a discussion on the nature and specificity of individual tools in the sustainability marketing mix.

Part II SMEs Operating in the Food & Drink Industry as Beneficiary of Sustainability Marketing


The food and drink industry is one of the world’s largest manufacturing sectors and an integral part of the world’s social, economic and cultural mix. As well as contributing to the economic development of nations, manufacturers have a key strategic role to play in ensuring fair trade between nations and future food security against the combined effects of climate change, higher global demand and increasing pressure on finite resources.

In an uncertain market environment, ensuring the highest quality and food safety, improving prosperity and fair trade agreements require the industry, policymakers and society to work together towards these goals. There is also a need for an increased emphasis within the industry and its full supply chain network on the broader social and economic impact of food and drink production, distribution, purchasing and consumption.

In this chapter, the authors undertake a literature and secondary data review and analyse what makes the European food and drink industry one of the world’s leading manufacturing sectors. This chapter provides an overview of the industry and the current state of the sector. It covers issues relating to manufacturing, consumers’ purchasing behaviours, distribution, marketing and retail, and the wider environmental trends, structures and economics of the industry. Finally, it presents some likely future trajectories in terms of social, consumer and regulatory trends, such as technological, marketing and production practices that develop and, in many cases, lead to new business models and paradigms.


Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) shape the economic landscape of many countries, acting as the foundation of entrepreneurship, on the one hand, and functioning as a highly sensitive organism requiring special treatment, on the other. The resurgence of the interest in SMEs dates back to about 50 years ago, triggered by an observation of a substantial growth in the number of employees of SMEs operating in highly developed countries and of the resulting increasing role of such enterprises in generating national income. Earlier, it was commonly believed that the significance of SMEs was marginal in the economic reality, especially compared to large enterprises, often considered almost the only driving force behind the economic growth and development of a given country.

Although nowadays SMEs play an important part in both economic and social spheres, they tend to be defined in various ways. The applied criteria are of a quantitative and qualitative nature. Hence, the first part of this chapter offers a description of SMEs presented in these two perspectives. This is followed by a set of statistical data illustrating the significance of SMEs in the global and European economy. This background provides a means to define the food & beverage sector in the context of manufacturing, trade and services and to describe its present condition on the European market. A special emphasis is placed on the situation in six countries that took part in the studies: Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Poland and Russia.


Investigating the concept of sustainability marketing and the scope of its implementation in European countries can involve two types of sources. On the one hand, there are theoretical secondary sources, that is scientific studies concerning the conceptualization of sustainability marketing, the sources and determinants of its development and an analysis of the sustainability marketing process. This type also includes secondary sources in the form of the findings of previous research in the specific area conducted by independent research centres and institutes as well as non-governmental organizations. Such sources make it possible to identify the behaviour and attitudes of business managers with respect to market changes, the concept of sustainable development, and social and environmental marketing, as well as the extent of their responsiveness to these phenomena. On the other hand, there are primary sources in the form of empirical studies, which are particularly important when the issues under investigation are rarely explored, as is the case with the concept of sustainability marketing. These sources play an important role in explaining some of the regularities connected with the development of this concept and provide an appropriate basis for inference. This chapter will present the methodological aspects of the research on sustainability marketing in SMEs.

Part III The Implementation of Sustainability Marketing in SMEs – A Comparative Analysis of Selected European Countries


The contemporary business world has been facing mounting criticism for quite a long time. The accusations relate to the short-sightedness of business decisions, strategies oriented solely to profit-making, hostile takeovers, a focus on cost reduction, employee redundancies, etc. This has led to a decline in trust towards business executives, as shown, for example, by the 2016 GfK Trust Index based on research conducted in 27 countries, including 13 European ones. According to the survey, managers and entrepreneurs are ranked 22nd out of 32 professions analysed (Trust in Professions, 2016). This relatively low level of trust in business managers, coupled with the new challenges created by a changing business environment which managers must cope with in order to stay in the market, means that contemporary companies have to change. Corporations are increasingly being challenged as to their function in society. Entrepreneurs must face the challenges connected not only with increasing competition or the development of new technologies, but also growing social expectations. This means that companies today must be managed not only effectively, but also responsibly. This chapter will present the findings of research on the place of sustainability marketing activities in the system of goals for contemporary organizations. To begin with, market trends will be discussed, which in today’s world to the greatest extent influence the marketing strategies of small and medium-sized enterprises in the food and drink sector, as well as the challenges such companies face nowadays. Next, a change in the significance of the strategic goals that these companies set for themselves will be discussed. The final part of the chapter will focus on sustainability aspects in the strategies adopted by SMEs.


This chapter investigates the awareness and level of implementation of the sustainability marketing concept in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in selected Western European and Central-Eastern European countries. This study will focus primarily on comparing the Western and Central-Eastern European countries combined in respective country groups. The data underlying this evaluation were gathered as part of an international research project by surveying SME managers in six European countries. The chapter will assess whether the main hypothesis of the research project – that there is a significant positive correlation between awareness and level of implementation of the sustainability marketing concept and a country’s level of socio-economic development – is accurate. The main hypothesis will be verified based on individual sub-hypotheses. The findings from this verification process will clearly reveal that the main hypothesis is applicable. The following chapter is organized as follows. First, managers’ attitudes towards sustainability marketing are described. Second, managers’ knowledge on the concept of sustainability marketing is presented. The final part focuses on the implementation of sustainability marketing concept and the significance of sustainability marketing for corporate strategy over time.


Adopting the concept of sustainable development is connected with the necessity of redefining marketing strategies and, as a consequence, should also be reflected in the policies adopted for the individual tools. In this chapter, the sustainability marketing mix is considered with regard to five instruments: product, price, place, promotion and people (5P). The aim of the chapter is to investigate the current state of knowledge in this matter as well as the scope for the implementation of the sustainability marketing concept in small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in the food and drink sector from an international perspective. The international approach has been adopted to try and find out whether in more highly developed countries sustainability marketing activities are comprehensive and include all the marketing tools; and, on the other hand, whether in less-developed markets sustainability marketing activities are limited to the tools for which the concept of sustainable development can theoretically be implemented the most easily, namely, promotional activities and those targeted at a company’s own employees.

Each of the analysed instruments was described from two angles: in terms of the results obtained for the whole research sample, indicating the countries whose respondents had the highest and lowest values for the specific variables defining each marketing mix instrument and in terms of a comparison of two groups of countries, indicating similarities and differences in the opinions of managers on the use of marketing mix instruments in a sustainable way. The chapter concludes with the results obtained through factor analysis, which made it possible to identify the ways in which SME managers in the food and drink sector define the individual sustainability marketing tools.

Cover of The Sustainable Marketing Concept in European SMEs
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