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Chapter 6: A Competitive Analysis And Strategy

Chapter Objectives
Structure Of The Chapter
Industry analysis
Competitive strategy
Chapter Summary
Key Terms
Review Questions
Review Question Answers

Successful marketers are those who can steer their organisations through the turbulent marketing environment, and do it better than competitors. Whilst easy to say, in practice it is not easy to do. Many competitive industries and organisations are very difficult to penetrate, despite all the intelligence techniques that may be available to get information. The Kenya flower industry, for example, whilst willing to give general information on their production and marketing, are very reluctant to give away their "trade" secrets. Other industries, like the diamond industry, are very exclusive in the sense that few companies dominate, the most famous being De Beers.

Despite this, any successful organisation has to look at the competition, and moreover, be aware how the nature of competition can guide its strategy. The Kenyan flower industry is facing increasingly stiff competition from Zimbabwe. Its response has to be rapid in order to preserve its stance. Whilst Kenya may have been a market "leader" with the appropriate strategy to go with it, Zimbabwe as a market "challenger," may have made Kenya now to think, more in the future, to go with a "niche" strategy as a counteraction. As we saw earlier, this certainly was the case with Kenyan vegetables.

Chapter Objectives

The objectives of this chapter are:

· To describe and give an understanding of the different ways of analysing competition
· To show how to develop strategies based on competitive analysis and
· To give examples to ensure understanding of the techniques.

Structure Of The Chapter

The chapter opens with a discussion on the nature of competition and then looks at a number of competitive analyses, including the seminal work by Michael Porter on industry analysis. Examples are given to reinforce the theory and the chapter finishes by looking at "outsourcing" as an important competitive strategy.


Competition in most global product/markets is intense. In the fertiliser industry for example, few companies dominate - including Norsk Hydro. Product type competition has become intense also, for example, Pannar and Cargil seeds, so has brand competition, for example Israel's CARMEL and South Africa's OUTSPAN. Substitute competition has also become an increasingly bitter battleground, with products being able to replace others as technology and tastes have changed.

Industry analysis

One way to look at competition is by industry analysis. Competition drives down rates of return on invested capital. If the rate is "competitive" it will encourage investment, if not, it will discourage competition. Porter1 (1980) and (1985) looked at the forces influencing competition in an industry and the elements of industry structure. Figure 6.1 shows the four forces influencing competition, threat of new entrants, threat of substitute products, "macro" factors like changes in technology and social factors and "micro" factors like customers' or buyers' changing needs.

Figure 6.1 Forces influencing competition in the industry

Porter further postulated that the elements of industry structure are suppliers, buyers, new entrants and substitutes (see figure 6.2).

In this analysis, the Malawian and Ugandan Birds Eye chili example is a good case. Uganda was a world supplier of chilies. Uganda, devastated by the war, saw Malawi, (a new entrant) take over its position. Now Uganda is hitting back by resurrecting its shattered industry and strongly marketing its product to Malawi's detriment.

In 1990, Porter2 hypothesised in his text "The Competitive Advantage of Nations", why some nations were more competitive than others. As well as being able to successfully manoeuvre through the environment he identified that the foundation of success lay in the "diamond" of "home" advantage. To successfully launch an international challenge he identified four "home" prerequisites - the maximum use of endowed resources (natural and human) the forming of domestic networks to fully exploit these resources, domestic demand (which may involve the invitation to world class players to help develop these resources in country) and finally, an industry and environmental structure (the latter provided by Government) in order that these forces can thrive. Unfortunately, in many developing nations, the first stage only has been reached and even then much of the added value is exported. Thankfully this is not the case in other LDC's. We can examine this further by looking at the application of the above theory in the food industry.

Figure 6.2 Elements of industry structure

A food system, to be competitive, must have two requisites. Firstly it must be competitive with other agricultural systems or any other system for that matter (say wildlife management) in attracting resources, and secondly it must be absolutely competitive against similar commodity systems or industries in other countries. The commodity system may have to compete against those industries in international markets or be threatened by them in its domestic markets. Porter would refer to this as "competitive advantage" or "international competitiveness". Whilst Porter concentrates on two factors in the control of manufacturing industries i.e.:

a) lower cost of production and delivery - leading to underpricing over competition

b) differentiation of product - quality, image, services,

c) in export oriented agriculture it is essential to recognise a third potential source of competitive advantage that of:

d) complementary supply - "off season", meeting production shortfalls because of weather, disease and so on.

However, complementary supply may not be a competitive strategy per-se, in the long term, because a supplier must still look at itself as a low cost or product differentiated supplier.

As in industrial products, many factors go into making up the comparative or competitive advantage of a supplier. Similarly in food systems, many technological, market or natural resource endowment factors go towards making up competitive advantage. Many of these factors have actually been discussed, and these are summarised in table 6.1. These factors are primarily related to the size and patterns of food demand (shaped by incomes, tastes, technological developments etc.), microeconomics and sector policies (rate of inflation, investment policies, natural resources and human capital endowments (weather, soils, labour), physical and social infrastructure (roads, ports, telephones, power system) and micro-marketing relationship (quality/price relationships, management).

Table 6.1 Factors affecting international competitiveness for products/commodities1



Market research

Income, tastes, resources and strengths of competing, suppliers, work patterns, population clusters, price, elasticities

Macroeconomics and sector policies

Terms of access and trade, price policies, fiscal and monetary policies, tariff and non tariff barriers

Natural resources and human capital

Geological resources, labour, climate, experience

Physical, technical, and social infrastructure

Transport, credit, market information, extension, communications, marketing extension, post harvest facilities

Micro marketing relationships

Quality control, efficiencies of management- buying, selling, handling, production, marketing, promotion, credit coordination, market research, risk analysis, relationship building.

In Porter's3 analysis industry competitors can be "threatened" by new or potential entrants and substitutes. In food marketing systems, barriers to new entrants can exist, as well as barriers to international competitiveness. These barriers can be related to technical characteristics of commodities, perishability, bulkiness; production characteristics - small scale producers incurring higher transport costs; production support systems; dissemination of information to producers; processing and distribution functions - economies of scale, and laws; rules and standards - hygiene requirements, sizing, grading, phytosanitary systems. Conversely these factors can also be "standardised" by Government or other market intermediaries and players to make the "threat" of new entrants even more real. These include standard technological measures like containerisation, packaging, waxcoating, use of accredited pesticides, mechanical handling; standard laws, rules and regulations -phytosanitary requirements, size, standards, grades and rules defining property rights; permissable forms of cooperation and competition; unusual brand marks or reputations; spot or contact trading; standard channels of distribution and so on. All these can help facilitate the entry of a newcomer and make the incumbent be particularly on guard and responsive. Table 6.2 give an example of a number of sources of competitive advantage for selected worldwide products.

Table 6.2 Sources of competitive advantage for selected commodity systems


Low cost advantage

Product differentiation

Off season

Shift in source/strategy of competitive advantage

Kenya vegetables


Broad range

Historically, not low

Thailand tuna


Taiwan food processing

Tailor made, high quality

Low cost to differentiated supplier

Israel fresh and processed citrus

Broad range, brand name, tailor made


Commodity supplier to niche and technology supported product

Brazil frozen concentrated orange juice


Bulk transport, tank, farm distribution

One of the remarkable success stories, against nearly all the odds, has been that of Argentina beef. It is an example of how, through low cost of production and product differentiation it has been able to maintain its international competitiveness.

CASE 6.1 Argentina Beef

Beef has been a tradition in Argentina for two centuries. It had always exported salted meet and later chilled beef, but with the establishment of "barriers" internationally the Commonwealth preference System, and other environmental factors like World War II, Argentina's international beef market contracted and so it standardised the domestic market. Argentina's beef consumption per capita is almost four times that of Western Europe (70-80 kgs compared to 15-25 kgs)

Despite its domestic orientation recently. Argentina is stilt the world's third largest beef producer and fourth in exporting terms behind Australia, Germany and the US. its traditional export markets for lower value products (boned and manufactured -beef) has been lost to subsidised EU supplies and because of other developed country protection measures.

However it has maintained or increased its export of high value products (boneless cute, canned beef, frozen beef) which now account for over 80% of export value. Its export value is now near the $800 million mark although only 10% of its total agricultural exports.

The Argentina beef industry faced all the "macro* forces described by Porter internally and externally, and the threat of new entrants, but survived. This success was not necessarily built on favourable trading conditions but its ability to maintain international competitiveness through rampant inflation, currency overevaluation, heavy taxation, potential uncertainty and increased competition from substitute products internationally and from the Argentine cereals subsector which was clamouring for more resources,

Its success was sustained by

a) low cost production of quality beef (climate and extensive grasslands);
b) well developed, flexible and transparent livestock marketing system;
c) Innovations in beef distribution domestically (butcher chain stores, vacuum packing);
d) development of new: international market outlets. (Mid East); and,
e) debt rescheduling by banks for livestock and trading enterprises.

With recent measures to make the industry viable again, including capacity rationalisation, Argentina beef is now back in profit and. is exporting a little more now

Many more examples exist of less developed countries taking advantage of the low cost of production and product differentiation to make an international success. But this is not limited to LDC's alone. Israel found itself unable to compete internationally with its citrus products, but found a new way to remain competitive internationally.

CASE 6.2 Israel Fresh Citrus Fruit

By the early 1950's, fuelled by mass immigration and large capital investments, the citrus subsector grew rapidly. Hectarage rose from 14 000 to over 40 000 hectares. With the well respected "Jaffa" label and the Citrus Marketing Board as the Only exporter (in Porter's term's giving huge, "supplier power") Israel oranges and grapefruit dominated many markets. However, by the late 1970's stiff competition from Spain, Morocco and Cyprus and changing consumer tastes led to a levelling off of demand, and the once powerful, Citrus Marketing Board found it had to shift its orientation from powerful, bargaining seller to a marketer" naturing new demand patterns. Whilst it succeeded in some of its promotion and utilisation campaigns, it increasingly found Itself with excess supply and a product which was less in demand. Consumer tastes had shifted to "easy peeling" oranges and tangerines and sweeter red grapefruit, away from Israeli Shamuti (Jaffa) orange and white grapefruit. The 1980's saw a major decline in international competitiveness and profitability with more than 20% of its planted citrus area uprooted, pack houses mothballed and volume levels falling to 1930's levels. The once powerful Citrus Marketing Board's monopoly was rescinded in 1991. Several factors led to Israel's decline. These included:-

a) rapid cost inflation in the mid 1980's;

b) the strength of the USD vis a vis European currencies. The CMB's unit of accounting was USD;

c) a significant rise in international shipping costs in the early 1980's;

d) financial crisis within Israel's agricultural settlements;

e) improper export product mix;

f) conflict of interest in the subsector giving weakened incentives for product innovations and quality;

g) inability of the Citrus Marketing Board (CMB) to reposition itself to maintain competitiveness; and,

h) Quality and supply of competitors, especially in demanded products for example Spain.

The Israeli citrus industry experienced all the problems envisaged by Porter In maintaining industry competitiveness. Bargaining power by the CMD shifted from supplier to the buyer. Competitors had a better product and lower costs and a product that was now demanded. These directly substituted for the Israeli product.

However, Israel responded. In 1990 a few cooperatives and processors began processing fruit, despite the unsuitably of the product in many cases, and were able to absorb one million tons of fresh fruit product. Export of processed citrus products (concentrates, bases, essential oils etc) first exceeded its value of fresh fruit in 1984 and are now double the export of fresh fruits. Technological advances and the ability to tailor make to niches has ensured international competitiveness. However, the greatest potential, looks like in the supply of root stock to other producers and processors, although Florida and Brazil are doing the same.

Competition analysis

In order to know how best to compete, as well as the analysis given above, one needs to know the way competitors measure themselves, their strategy to date, their major strengths and weaknesses and likely future strategy. In the first of these - knowing the way competitors see themselves - much can be learned from public accounts, interviews and the trade press. Other ways are to have competitive personnel, take part in trade fairs, purchase the competitor's product and take it apart, or indulge in "espionage". In identifying the competitor's strategy to date, it is not enough to believe what they say but to reconstruct their strategy. Evaluating resources is difficult. It is essential to look at their production, marketing, financial and management resources. On the basis of these first three, it is possible to guess the future.

Not all competitors are necessarily bad. Good competitors can absorb demand fluctuations, expand the market, increase motivation, and act responsively to the industry. There is, for example, room for all developing countries to take a share in most world markets in commodities, without one country wishing to be too aggressive.

Competitive strategy

Value chain analysis espouses three roles for marketing in a global competitive strategy. The first relates to the configuration of marketing. It may be advantageous to concentrate some marketing activities in one or a few countries. A second role relates to the coordination of activities across countries to gain leverage say, of know how. A third critical role of marketing is its role in tapping opportunities for upstream advantage in the value chain. More will be said about value chain analysis in later chapters.

Generic approaches

According to Porter1 (1980) there are three generic approaches to outperforming others in an industry - overall cost leadership, differentiation and focus (see figure 6.3).

Figure 6.3 Generic competitive advantage

If there are few perceived differences between products and their uses are widespread, then the lowest cost firms will get the advantage. This is the case of television sets and many fruit products. If there is a large perceived difference created, then the firm has more price leeway. CARMEL and OUTSPAN successfully created a perceived quality advantage, as have Cadbury and Nestle. Focus strategies concentrate on serving a particular segment better than anyone else. A good example of this is the Dutch flower auction or Gerber baby foods.

The life cycle

As indicated in chapter one, successful global strategists have also to be cognisant of the international life cycle. Successful strategies start with a firm base in one region or country, then expand as opportunities arise. These opportunities have to be explored alongside careful analysis of the life cycle stage in one or another country. Failure to do so may mean that the opportunity has passed, whereas the firm may be under the impression it is still there.

Strategies for success

Success can be achieved in industries by identifying growth segments within an overall market, enhancing quality and stressing operating efficiencies. In fragmented industries success can be achieved by the creation of economies of scale. In the poultry and beef cattle industry, for example, this means feed lots and intensive rearing. Another way of overcoming fragmentation is by "positioning" which must be consistent.

The three types of positioning strategy are market leader, market challenger or market follower. In market leadership the firm must work at maintaining its position, having got there through, say, cost advantage or innovation, by being very responsive to market needs. We saw in the case of Argentina's beef and Brazil's frozen concentrated orange juice that success was built on:

· Economies of scale - low cost of production
· Customer knowledge - shifting the product mix to meet changing demand
· Technological innovation - vacuum packing policy, bulk transport
· Infrastructural development - supermarkets, transport systems

In the market challenger category, an organisation may publicly announce its intention to take over the number one position either by price advantage, product innovation or promotion. We shall see this later in the case of Thailand's tuna industry.

The market follower is "allowed" to stay in the market only if the leader chooses to maintain a price umbrella and not maximize share. However the follower may be able to service segments on a more personal level than the leader and hence maintain an industry position.

Other strategies include "market flanking" - a classical Japanese approach. The competitive position of the industry is very important to the would be global marketer. Intelligence, such as that gathered by the process described in chapter five, is an essential prerequisite to designing a strategy. Too often developing countries attempt to gain entry into the international market without knowledge of the industry or competitors. Malaysia attempted to break into the cocoa industry, but did not achieve success because the cocoa was the wrong type and the product could not be absorbed into the world market. In the cut flower industry, it is the high value types which are giving the returns now - carnations, roses, orchids - rather than the low value ones. In marketing vegetables to the UK, any other route but through buying agents, until recently, was a recipe for disaster. Now it is somewhat changing. The need to properly assess the market and devise a strategy on the assessment is a must to succeed.

The "copy adapt" strategy is a relatively well tried strategy in which an organisation may seek to copy a successful product/market strategy pioneered by another organisation and adapt it to local conditions or other markets. Many examples of this strategy exist in LDCs, where the local populace may simply not have the income to afford the real thing. Typical examples exist in all countries but none more so than in India. One can see agricultural land implements, tractors, ox carts and many other cheaper, adaptations of well known marques, for example, the International Harvester and the Indian Mahindra tractor "look alike".


A different approach to gaining competitive advantage may be through "out sourcing" from a number or countries, or through out sourcing in country as in the case of Kenya vegetables. In analysing a value chain the organisation may find it much cheaper or easier to source certain components of the chain from outside of the country it is operating in. This is often called the "make or buy" decision. The criteria for the "out" sourcing decision are:

· Factor costs and availability
· Logistics: time required to fill orders, security and safety and transportation costs
· Country's infrastructure
· Political risk
· Market access
· Foreign exchange
· Technological capability.

"As illustration of the above discussion, take the assembly of tractors in Zimbabwe. The electronics and some other components are incapable of being sourced locally because of the technical sophistication required in the production process. These components have, therefore, to be imported. It is only when all the factors listed above are in place, that global sourcing can occur effectively. Continuing with the Zimbabwean example, it is impossible for the country to be highly outsource orientated and find cheaper labour factor countries to manufacture products because, prior to 1990, there was insufficient foreign exchange to pay for them. Since 1990, with economic reform, this situation is now rapidly changing.

Outsourcing is a well established global strategy. It is uncommon for global organisations like Ford and Toyota to source components and end products from a variety of countries or to shift global production to the most cost competitive economies. World markets are a stage on which a player must choose or find his unique part. Essentially, this is what competitive strategy is all about".

Chapter Summary

As with domestic marketing, global marketers have to decide how they are to compete in their chosen market. According to Porter, the principal sources of competitive advantage are lower costs of production and a differentiated product offering. Lesser developed countries usually have the former, but may have to work hard to obtain the latter.

Should countries not be able to obtain a cost advantage, one possible option is to "outsource" production. This is a very common phenomenon of developed countries. However, it does take careful coordination and setting up if it is to be successful.

There are other strategies available to marketers other than low cost, these include market leadership, market challenger or market flanking. All these strategies require information on competitors as well as on "environmental" conditions.

Key Terms

Competitive strategy



Competitive advantage

Marketing positioning

Review Questions

1. What is the difference between "comparative advantage" and "competitive advantage"?

2. What are the sources of "competitive advantage" in a food marketing system?

3. Describe, with examples, a market leader, market challenger, market follower, market flanker and copy - adapt strategy.

Review Question Answers

1. Comparative advantage is the ability of one country to achieve a lower production ratio, under total specialisation, in one commodity, compared to that commodity in another country.

Competitive advantage is based on lower production costs and/or quality of market factor differentiation between one country or industry and another in like products.

2. Sources of competitive advantage are:

· lower costs of production
· quality or market factor differentiations
· supplementary supply patterns

Tutors are advised to ask students to give examples of these later, either from the text or from general reading. Such examples include Brazil frozen concentrated orange juice (lower costs) Kenyan vegetables (product range) or Chile tomato pastes (supply patterns)

3. Market leader - through cost or innovation advantage (Argentine beef),
Market challenger - through price or product innovation/promotion (Spanish easy peeler citrus)
Market follower - through price umbrella or share (Zimbabwe beef)
Market flanker - through taking up market interstices (Thailand tuna)
Copy - adapt - through advertising known technology/products (Mahindra tractors)


1. Porter, M.E. "Competitive Strategy". New York: The Free Press, 1980.

2. Porter, M.E. "The Competitive Advantage of Nations". New York: The Free Press, 1990.

3. Porter, M.E. "Competition in Global Industries". Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1986.


4. Duro, R.B. "Winning the Marketing War". John Wiley and Sons, 1989.

5. Hall, W.K. "Survival Strategies in a Hostile Environment". Harvard Business Review. Sept-Oct 1980, pp 75-85.

6. Porter, M.E. "Competitive Advantage". New York: The Free Press, 1985.

7. Hammermesh, R.G. and Silk, S.B. "How to Compete in Stagnant Industries". Harvard Business Review. Sept-Oct 1979, pp 161-168.

8. Ries, A. and Trout, J. "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind". McGraw Hill, 1981.

9. Keegan, W.J. "Global Marketing Management", 4th ed. Prentice Hall International Edition, 1989.

10. Jaffee S. "Exporting High Value Food Commodities". World Bank Discussion pp 198, 1993.

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