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Chapter 10: Distribution Decisions

Chapter Objectives
The Structure Of The Chapter
Channel structure
Cotton marketing
Physical distribution
East Africa horticulture marketing
Chapter Summary
Key Terms
Review Questions
Review Question Answers

Distribution has two elements, the institutional and the physical. Whilst the modes of market entry were fully discussed in chapter seven, the actual institutions (for example retailers, agents and so on.) were not. These will be discussed briefly. Physical distribution aspects cover transport and warehousing, and again, these will be briefly touched on.

Whilst most agricultural exports from developing countries are either in a "primary" format (for example cotton, maize) or "finished" format (for example flowers, vegetables) increasing attention is being put on "processed" or "added value" formats. This means that, whereas in the former, exporters are in the hands of agents, merchants or other middlemen, in the latter much more needs to be understood of the channel itself. The more is known about the end user and the channel to reach him/her the better equipped will be the exporter to understand and meet the needs and also to perhaps gain more of the exported added value. It is a fact in flowers, for example, that these are sold on from the Dutch market to the Far East, where the price commanded is much more than the original exporter price. If the original exporter could participate in this channel, the greater would be the return.

The longer the channel, the more likely that producer profits will be indirectly reduced. This is because the end product's price may be too expensive to sell in volume, sufficient for the producer to cover costs. Yet cutting channel length may be impossible, as country infrastructure requirements may dictate they being there.

Chapter Objectives

The objectives of this chapter are:

· To give an understanding of the institutional and physical aspects of channels of distribution in global marketing

· To describe the different channels of distribution and show their advantages and disadvantages and,

· To illustrate the importance and role of channels of distribution by reference to two case studies on cotton and horticultural produce.

The Structure Of The Chapter

The chapter starts by showing the importance of the institutional and physical channel of distribution in global marketing. It then discusses the different forms of channel, their advantages and disadvantages. Particular attention is paid to the channel forms of relevance to global agricultural food marketing including brokers, contractors, and personalised trading networks. The chapter ends by concentrating on two case studies - cotton and horticulture; two industries where channel management needs to be particularly well organised.


A channel is an institution through which goods and services are marketed. Channels give place and time utilities to consumers. In order to provide these and other services, channels charge a margin. The longer the channel the more margins are added.

Channels are an integrative part of the marketer's activities and as such are very important. They also give a very vital information flow to the exporter. As seen in chapter seven, the degree of control one has over a channel depends on the channel type which is employed. Whilst for developing countries, as stated earlier, channels are almost given, this is not always the case, and as exporting becomes more and more necessary, it will not always be the case. In deciding on channel design the following have to be considered carefully:

· Market needs and preferences
· The cost of channel service provision
· Incentives for channel members and methods of payment
· The size of the end market to be served
· Product characteristics required, complexity of product, price, perishability, packaging
· Middlemen characteristics - whether they will push products or be passive
· Market and channel concentration and organisation
· Appropriate contractual agreements
· Degree of control.

Figure 10.1 Consumer channel alternatives

Channel structure

Channel structure varies considerably according to whether the product is consumer or business to business oriented. The former tends to have a variety of formats, whereas the latter is less complicated. Figures 10.1 and 10.2 give a stylised channel alternative structure. The choice of which one is used depends on the requirements listed above.

Figure 10.2 Business channel alternatives

In many countries there is a move to vertical or horizontal integration within channels, especially in developed countries where large chains dominate, as in the UK food retail trade. The converse is the scenario in many less developed countries. In East Africa, for example, small dukas (carrying less than 100 items and occupying no more than 506.75 square feet of space) operate widely on a margin of 12% as opposed to the developed countries' average of 24% margin. Also there can be very thriving parallel market systems, often difficult to track down. Decisions on what channels and entry strategy to adopt depend heavily on the risks, availability and costs of channels.

Most developing countries rely heavily on agents in distributing their products. Whilst criticism of being "ripped off" is often made, the loss caused by the shrinkage is less than that associated with more sophisticated channel forms.

We can now look in detail, at some important types of channel members relevant to agricultural marketing.


Brokers do not take title to the goods traded but link suppliers and customers. They are commonly found in international markets and especially agricultural markets. Brokers have many advantages, not least of which is they can be less costly overall for suppliers and customers.

· They are better informed by buyers and or sellers.
· They are skilled socially to bargain and forge links between buyers and sellers.
· They bring the "personal touch" to parties who may not communicate with each other.
· They bring economies of scale by accumulating small suppliers and selling to many other parties.
· They stabilise market conditions for a supplier or buyer faced with many outlets and supply sources.

Personalised trading networks

Frequently, relationships may be built up between a buyer and a seller, in which over time as confidence grows, unwritten and informal understandings develop. These relationships reduce information, bargaining, monitoring and enforcement costs. Often, as relationships build, then trust develops which may become proxy for laws. Flexibility ensues which often means priorities or "favours" can be expedited. Trust and reciprocity can enable trade to develop in unstable economic circumstances, but both parties are aware the relationship can be undermined through opportunistic behaviour. The Kenyan fresh vegetable industry is a classic example of personalised trading networks enabling international trade between Kenya suppliers and their familial (often Asian) buyers in the United Kingdom.

Associations, voluntary chains, cooperatives

Associations, voluntary chains and cooperatives can be made up of producers, wholesalers, retailers, exporters and processors who agree to act collectively to further their individual or joint interests. Members may have implicit or exclusive contracts, membership terms and standard operating procedures.

These forms of coordination have a number of advantages:

· They counter the "lumpy investment" phenomenon by spreading the cost of investment among members.

· They can reduce or pool members' risks by bulk buying, providing insurance and credits, pooling market prices and risk.

· They lower transaction costs of members through arbitration of disputes, provision of market information systems, been a first stop for output.

· They can reduce marketing costs through the provision of promotion, protection of qualities and monitoring members' standards.

· They can act as a countervailing power between buyers and producers. This is very important where supermarkets in the UK, for example, are now buying in such quantities that they are dictating terms to suppliers.

Developing countries do not have a history of good cooperative development, primarily because of poor management, financial ineptitude and over-reaching themselves. However, the Bombay Milk Scheme in India is working very well. The latter has been very successful in going into value added processing as well.


Contracting represents an intermediate institutional arrangement between spot market trading and vertical integration. Marketing and production contracts allow a degree of continuity over a season, cycle or other period of time, without the "instantaneous" of spot trading.

The two main types of contract are:

i) Forward Markets. These involve commitments by buyers and sellers to sell and purchase a particular commodity over a stated period of time. Specifications usually include weight, volumes, standards and values. Prices may be based on cost plus or negotiated. These contracts exist between farmers and first handlers and exporters and importers.

ii) Forward resource/management contracts. These arrangements combine forward market sale and purchase commitments with stipulations regarding the transfer and use of specific resources and/or managerial functions. In such a contract the exchange of raw material or commodity is made on condition that it involves the use of certain inputs or methods, advised by the buyer, who may even take over the distribution function. This is a typical Marks and Spencer arrangement. Marks and Spencer is a very successful, high quality and price retail operation in the UK Such arrangements are found in many franchising, distributor or marketing/management agreements and help to internalise many future product transactions.

Both these forms of contract reduce the risks on both the buyers' and the sellers' side. By creating forward markets, the seller reduces market risk, and the buyer ensures that he receives commodities to certain specifications. Forward/resource management contracts also have the advantage of the provision of credit, market information and, perhaps, other "trade" secrets. Production contracts to farmers are also a source of credit collateral.


Integration vertically involves the combination of two or more separate marketing or production components under common ownership or management. It can involve investments "forward" or "backward" in existing activities or investments in interlinked activities. Integration horizontally means the linking of marketing or production separables at the same level in the system, for example, a group of retailers. Integration can bring a number of economies to food marketing systems, viz:

· Production/logistical economies: integration can bring economies of bulk, transport, and inventories.

· Transaction cost economies: integration brings cost economies because the firm may become the sole supplier of goods and services to itself; these include bargaining costs, information system streamlining and centralised decision making.

· Risk bearing advantages: vertical integration can overcome risk and uncertainty, i.e. by internalising flows the organisation can eliminate the risk of variability in supplies, outlets, qualities and so on. More direct control over assets may enable the firm to invest in processing and marketing facilities which further enable the development of economies of scale. Typical examples include nuclear estates and outgrower schemes.

· Market imperfections: these can be "absorbed" often by vertically integrated organisations. Taxes, prices and exchange controls and other regulations may be "absorbed" to give pecuniary gain. Also, integration enables the firm to increase its market share and leverage with suppliers and customers.

In agriculture, Lonrho and Anglo American provide excellent examples of vertically integrated organisations. Lonrho, with its estates in Kenya, is also in processing. Anglo American is also in agriculture and provides an interesting case of vertical integration giving advantages. If one takes the Anglo American operation in Zimbabwe, it owns, amongst other things, citrus estates. It not only grows, but processes and markets domestically and internationally. In addition, Anglo owns training facilities, transport facilities and gives credit and investment capabilities. Its international operation means it knows the Government tax, regulations, exchange controls and other measures very well, and so can "negotiate" around or within this legal/monetary framework.


It has already been seen in chapter seven that Government can take a leading role in the distribution of goods and services via state-owned Marketing Boards. Government may provide an infrastructure which the private sector just cannot afford for example roads, utilities, training and extension. Government has the sovereign authority to provide the regulatory framework within which commodity or agricultural export systems can be developed. It can also define the rules for international trade and market entry. It can negotiate in either a bilateral or multilateral form, to facilitate a particular commodity transfer or arrange lower terms of access.

Government also has other roles to play like cooperating or providing services in defined markets. It can provide credit or market information. It may stabilise prices with price controls like floor or ceiling prices, buffer stocks, quantity controls and so on. Government can regulate the competitive position of markets by passing regulations which protect or promote a market structure. It may force suppliers into Marketing Boards as the only outlet and so alter the whole competitive structure of industry. Both Marketing Boards and Marketing Orders can be used to control physical commodity flows, enforce market quality standards and pool market risk. Finally Government can "enable" suppliers through the introduction of export incentives, reduced taxes or export retention schemes.

As an example of international channels decisions and management the following cotton example is given, adapted from the ITC training manual (1989)1.

Cotton marketing

Customer requirements

In marketing cotton the basic question is, who is the customer? For cotton it may be an international merchant (large or small) or a local/regional merchant (large or small) or a spinning mill in the end user country. The customer has a number of clearly defined needs including the following:

· Availability - on time and in steady supply

· Quality - reliable, even running, free from foreign matter, no country damage and will pass the micro, PSI and GPT test values

· Shipment - on time, in a container, clearly marked and direct to customer

· Price - competitive at a given time. Its relative value must be competitive versus synthetics quality and against the Liverpool index.

· Terms - these must be simple - FOB, CFR etc. and be in tune with arrival/delivery schedules. Deferred terms and payment in home currency are advantageous

· Arbitration - a system for rejection, substitution and penalties must be agreed

· Information - advice on price developments, time to buy, who else buys and ranges of prices.

In addition, the producer and merchant have needs and objectives:


· Maximum inflow - for goods and services (freight insurance)
· Maintain presence in key markets
· Image - quality, contract performance and administrative excellence


· Margin level
· Market share/key customers - either big, international or niche
· Image - cheapest, most aggressive, quality and customer service.

Channel structure

Figure 10.3 below gives a typical channel structure for cotton1. At each stage value is added. The typical value chain is seed merchants, farmers, country buyers/cooperatives, ginner, buyer, merchant, selling agent and end user.

Figure 10.3 Cotton distribution

Channel alternatives

As can be seen from the above figure there are a possible number of alternatives for distributing cotton. Basically the choice comes down to two alternatives, the producer/seller selling direct or through an international merchant or agent.

International merchant/agent: A good merchant is characterised by the following characteristics, in comparison to the producer/seller selling direct:

· Well informed
· Well disciplined
· Knows the detail of his business
· Thinks in terms of probabilities and absolute terms (risk/reward)
· Is concerned but not dogmatic - he can accept when he is wrong
· Reports to few and knowledgeable people

An international merchant acts as a bridge between producers and consumers. He performs the following functions:

· Language - conducts communications in suppliers' and consumers' preferred language

· Space utility - he prepares the logistics function including sea and/or land transportation arrangements, documentation preparation and arrangements for insurance coverage

· Time utility - financing through own/banking facilities

· Currency risks - buys and sells in currencies required by sellers and buyers, does currency conversions, provides financial information and technical assistance and offers a currency gap guarantee

· Market risks - takes a long or short market basis position, deals with hedging, options, off-take and supply deals and price guarantee contracts

· Terminal exchanges - provides a brokering service and fixations

· Countertrade - handles the cotton side of the deal

· Quality - gives information on quality available, give quality recommendations for consumers, handles quality option/basket contracts and shows quality alternatives and,

· Culture - handles and is a link between remote developing areas and highly advanced and sophisticated centres of the world.

As can be seen from this list the services offered are considerable. The services he can provide to a producer are as follows:

· Up-to-date market information
· Information on competitors and prices
· Financing (producer and end user)
· Buying of all exportable qualities
· Buying on local terms
· Prompt payment
· Buying when producer can/wants to sell
· Buying unfixed at seller's call and,
· Contract guarantee for proper fulfilment.

Despite all these benefits, the choice of a merchant and/or agent has to be taken after careful consideration of the following criteria:

· Knowledge - of local circumstances (political, business and general, and of textiles in particular);
· Professionalism - cotton know-how
· Market coverage - covers large segment of end users
· Finance - financially sound and not dependent on sales to poor customers
· Language ability - avoid misunderstandings
· Integrity - particularly on pricing and,
· Infrastructurally sound, with good communications and administration.

Dangers to watch out for are:

· Representation - does agent handle other representations - cotton or non-cotton -, and how important and synergistic are they?

· Pricing integrity - does the agent ever try to change the price given by the principal?

Whilst most of these factors are producer oriented criteria, the trader himself has a predicament. Does he "think big" through looking at world supply/demand patterns, world economic conditions, the textile industry in general, fashion trends and currency movements, or does he "think small". Think small can be triggered by questions like will West Texas produce low micronaire cotton? Will XYZ Spinners go bankrupt? Will I find freight from Buenos Aires to Lagos? Will the price go up or down tomorrow? Whilst trying to find an answer to this dilemma, the trader may run out of time, money and courage and go broke. Risk and reward are ultimate advisers.

Producer/seller direct

In comparing the direct producer seller channel versus the merchant/agent channel, the question of control over distribution activities is the most telling argument as is the relationship which can be built up between producer and consumer. However, as can be seen from the previous section, the merchant/agent provides a number of services which are very powerful. Table 10.1 below summarises the main points of comparison.

Table 10.1 Comparison of international merchant and producer/seller



Global presence

Local/single market growth

Can choose to do nothing

Forced to act

Flexible sourcing/selling

Always long

Can offer client alternatives

Limited assortment

Staffing flexibility

Local staff

Currency/market risks

Currency risks

Market information wide

Limited market information

Handles prompt payments

May have to wait for payment

Quality guarantees

May not guarantee same quality

Whilst experience with traders may lead to some unsatisfactory outcomes, in the main merchants/agents in the long run offer a more convenient form of channel of distribution than direct dealings.

Market strategy

In designing a marketing strategy, both external factors (macro-environmental) and internal factors (micro-environmental) have to be considered.

External factors

The principle factor to consider here is "government". In general the role of government has increased over the years with few truly free, purely supply/demand oriented producer countries.

Government has an effect on three areas - production, exports and imports.

· Production - Government has sought to promote its own cotton industry by certain measures. This has led to a competitive edge by certain countries. In Egypt, Sudan and Turkey, input subsidies on fertilizers, seeds and pesticides have been used. Colombia and Pakistan have obtained credit at favourable terms. Syria, the CIS and Egypt have had ginning realisation. In most countries seed research has either been directly or indirectly funded by government.

· Exports - government influence here has been in minimum price legislation, special exchange rates, export credit facilities and export duties.

· Imports - Basically this has been free of influence for typical importing countries, but there are special ad hoc regulations for occasional imports. Because of the drought, Zimbabwe had to import lint in 1992/93 to keep its textile industry going. This, inevitably, was a special deal as Zimbabwe usually provides for its own needs from its own production.

As well as these forms of intervention, governments may pursue a specific policy for its cotton industry. The US cotton programme, for example, is to provide a stimulus to produce more or less and/or make US cotton competitive. This is done through loans, target price mechanisms, acreage reduction programmes, paid diversions, inventory reduction programmes and through the AWP (Average World Price).

Internal factors: A clearly defined strategy is required. Primarily the producer has to decide whether it will sell pre-season or when the crop comes in, and/or is it to be a one off or steady seller.

· Pricing - the producer has to decide on what pricing strategy to follow - average fixed, average on call, speculative or the use of options.

In theory the free market principle of supply and demand is applicable but in practice the question is whether the market is supply or demand driven. The demand for cotton depends on so many factors -elasticity, substitutes and the limits to cotton price elasticity, origin, shortages/disasters all affect price. Buffer stocks in cotton are not very relevant, as it would be difficult to make it work universally, hence limiting the price/supply option.

Added to the price equation is "basis" trading. A basis is defined as the difference to New York Futures, either on or off. Other definitions include "buying basis the country basis" or "basis Liverpool Index". Basis trading has become more prevalent for traders/exporters and mills for a number of reasons:

· the outright market position risk is too large (basis fluctuations are normally less than market hedging)

· in cases of default the trader's risk is basis difference which is often smaller than the market;

· many conserve cash for margins;

· a producer/exporter has the opportunity to obtain more US dollars (or less); and,

· a mill has the opportunity to obtain a lower (or higher) price.

A basis is established in the following way:

· Using US cotton as a common denominator. The US is a constant exporter, always in the market at any quality.

· Buying New York futures against a sale or selling New York futures against a purchase or directly quoting a basis.

The basic technical aspects include:

· choosing the correct month
· right to fix
· fixation deadlines
· before delivery
· after delivery (provision price)
· rolling forward or backward
· margin requirements in case of delayed fixation
· giving fixation orders.

Basis versus New York is inherent in any cotton price. New York futures are a legitimate way to hedge a market position for a merchant although one must realise that it is not often a perfect hedge. However, it is often the only way a trader can enter a far forward buying or selling commitment. For a producer or mill it is a risky attempt to maximise the dollar return for his product or lower the price of his purchase. It is also an indirect way to play with the futures market where a direct involvement for certain reasons is impossible.

So on channels, a decision has to be made whether to sell direct, or through merchants, or use a combination or sell to any market or selected markets. Similarly, rotation in the choice of staff and staffing (traders, classes, administrators) - a decision has to be made on whether to use the same staff, international expertise through travel/congresses or low key and/or train staff.

Marketing action

In order to make the cotton flow work the following must be observed:

· Marketing - know the markets, competition and customers; travel and meet people; document yourself; decide on a main focus (do not fragment); ensure feedback to producer, seed merchants and logistics providers

· Selling - select customers and agents carefully; look for standard terms with flexibility built in; stick to your agents and customers, lasting relationships build confidence, especially in times of difficulty; do not underestimate a first-class merchant's function; keep a customer file and be available at home

· Administrative - be efficient, have communication facilities and give prompt payment settlement

· Staffing - seek continuity of staff and provide training.

The cotton industry has a number of associations, which provide a variety of services. These include the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) which has government members and provides statistics and standards, ITMF which is user oriented, the Liverpool Cotton Exchange which does contracts and negotiation and the New York Cotton Exchange which deals in futures.

Physical distribution

As well as the institutional elements of distribution, channel management includes services and physical elements - transport, warehousing and inventory management. These are very specialised areas of distribution and include different modes of transport - land, sea, air, and services offered by freight forwarders, agents, insurance etc. The readings accompanying this chapter provide most of the detail, so here the modes of distribution are briefly covered.

As well as negotiating all the paperwork and the quota or tariff agreements described earlier in this section, the exporting company has to consider storage, documentation and transportation. The importance of these elements can be seen in the following case study of 1991 for the horticultural industry in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, reported by Collett (1991)2.

East Africa horticulture marketing

In order to establish a successful horticultural export industry it is important that the producer, the importer and the government consider the venture as a genuine partnership, built on trust. The most important player in this partnership is undoubtedly the government which controls most aspects of production and marketing, in one way or another and will contribute to the success or failure of the industry.

Most African countries face two main problems, namely, on the one hand unemployment and on the other, a shortage of foreign currency. Horticulture, being a major employer of labour and as a provider of export a significant earner of foreign currency, can contribute to easing both the employment and foreign currency situations.

World demand for high quality horticulture products, combined with the high cost of labour in the developed countries, has resulted in high prices and high returns for producers.


In the partnership between grower, importer and government, each has different roles as follows:


· Horticulture is a high risk, high return industry requiring a very high standard of management
· Growers have to obtain, and employ if necessary, technical skills
· Transport options have to be considered
· Financial arrangements have to be made, particularly foreign currency and,
· At all times quality, quantity, and continuity has to be guaranteed.


· Importer has to create and maintain trust
· Provide information on demand, timing, price, and product
· Pay as soon as possible to ease cash flows
· Offer support to the exporter when prices drop
· Recommend new products and,
· Become a true partner to the grower.


· Create the right climate to allow exports to expand
· Apply minimal regulatory requirements and ensure these are properly handled
· Ensure sufficient air freight capacity
· Maintain freight rates at acceptable levels for the industry as a whole
· Grant work permits for essential skills
· Make foreign currency available
· Waive duties and taxes to assist the industry
· Implement incentives
· Allow importation of new chemicals tested elsewhere and,
· Do everything possible to make the industry competitive in world markets.

Representative body

It is essential to form a body to look after all the requirements of the industry. Major representation must come from producers, who stand the major risk, but representation is essential from government and in particular, the Ministries of Finance, Agriculture and Transport. Officials serving on the body must be in a position to take decisions and act in the interest of the industry.

Selection of crops

Climatic conditions in each of the four countries varies from low lying hot to high altitude cool production areas capable of producing a very wide variety of crops. Final selection of crops to grow will depend on market demand, price and transport logistics. Long road and rail haul will determine which crops can be produced for export by air and when they will have to go by sea.


Horticultural development already taking place is largely on commercial farms where capital, technical skills, irrigation and transport is on hand. Development in the small scale sector has been minimal due to the lack of capital etc., and the inability of the sector to raise credit without land title. It is highly probable that given the necessary training, capital etc., the small scale sector could produce very high quality, as is happening in Kenya.

The success of the commercial farming sector in producing export crops must be utilised to develop a parallel production system in the small scale sector. Initially, the sector must produce for the local market and change to export as skills are acquired.

Urgent development of the horticultural export sector in the region is necessary. The following figures indicate the relative importance of horticulture in countries in the region:
















South Africa

+/-1 million


Transport - air

International service (air): Export by air, weekly flights, freight rates, tonnes are given in table 10.2. Zimbabwe has 15 scheduled flights (passenger) per week to London, Frankfurt and Lisbon. It is hoped that by the end of 1991, Amsterdam, Paris and Geneva will be added to the list of available destinations. Cargo flights to Amsterdam, London and Cologne as well as Brussels by the national cargo carrier and the three charter flights are also available.

Zambia is currently served by BA, Aero Zambia and UTA with flights to London and Frankfurt. In addition, the national carrier NAC flies twice weekly to London and Amsterdam.

Tanzania has 18 scheduled flights to Europe and the Middle East through Dar es Salaam, some of which also stop at Kilimanjaro. As far as air services go, Tanzania is better served than any of the four countries visited.

Malawi has services to Amsterdam, London, and Paris with five flights per week. In addition, there is a weekly service by NAC offering 20 tonne capacity.

Table 10.2 International air service comparisons






















> 500 kg


Per Palet

> 1000 kg




1.50 (winter 1.25)

1.20 - 2.30



400 Est



Regional services: Regional trade at this stage is very limited although air services are available significantly increase trade. Existing trade is limited to between Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola and Mauritius and between Malawi and South Africa. In addition, Zambia has limited contact with Angola and Tanzania with Burundi.

Destinations: Traditional links between the four countries are all with the UK and it is not surprising the most of the cargo goes to this destination. Zambia and Zimbabwe, however, have built up significant flower trade with Holland and their requirements are largely met by cargo flights.

Statistics: Accuracy of statistics has to be questioned and most efforts to collect these be improved and linked to information available from the individual airlines. Major exports now taking place are from Zimbabwe and Zambia, both of whom have been in the business for only five years. Malawi and Tanzania export little air freighted cargo, but nevertheless have significant potential to export tropical, subtropical and temperate crops including fruit, vegetables and flowers.

Freight rates: Freight rates to international destinations vary considerably with Zimbabwe and Zambia the highest (see table 10.2). Rate structures in the region are considerably higher than in West Africa. These high costs have forced growers to concentrate on high value commodities such as flowers at the expense of lower value fruit and vegetables. Freight rate levels have to be set to give the airline a fair return while allowing the grower sufficient margin to be viable. A realistic return to the airline is essential to attract charters etc., to the region, without which growers could not export. The value per tonne of product produced for export must be high enough to meet the above criteria. Zimbabwe is currently receiving average prices of ZMD 8,000 per tonne CIF for produce and ZMD 11,000 for flowers. There is no doubt these values will improve as certain commodities are dropped and replaced.

Types of air services: Scheduled flights give preference to fruit and vegetables because of their heavy nature, while charter services prefer to uplift flowers at the higher freight rate. Charter operations prefer to load some heavy cargo as well, and a combination favoured in Zimbabwe is 90% flowers with 10% fruit and vegetables. The developing trend is for scheduled flights to concentrate on fruit and vegetables into London and for charters and national cargo carriers to uplift flowers to Holland. Cargo to German destinations is increasing as exporters realise this market imports 70% of all flowers sold in Holland, and efforts are made to sell direct to the end user. Air transport into any country will depend on demand, including passengers as well as cargo, and as demand increases airlinks will provide the required services. It is very much a chicken and egg situation, and if existing air services have no available cargo space, growers will produce crops in the hope that space will be made available. Cargo operators also provide services where these are required. In general, there is more cargo coming into the central southern region of Africa than flies out, and coordination is required to make maximum use of empty return flights.

National cargo carrier: Each country is dependent on its own national airline and this service must be made full use of before resorting to outside service. Landing rights in all countries are granted by the authorities who sometimes limit these to airlines who are prepared to allocate them cargo space. Government has in its power to allow in as many flights as requested by international carriers, but it also has an obligation to its own airline, and where an open sky policy is not in the national interest, these requests are turned down.

Tourism: Tourism plays a major part in deciding how many flights to allow in, and the fate of this industry is closely linked to that of horticultural exporting, as both are dependent on available air services.

Freight forwarders: A very important sector of Zimbabwe's horticultural export industry is the freight forwarder, who in addition to chartering extra cargo flights also provides cold stores at the airport. This new development is in addition to their normal services which include booking space, documentation, phytosanitary certificates and applying to government for export incentives on behalf of exporters.

Penalties: Zimbabwe has instituted a strictly controlled penalty system for growers/exporters who book space and then do not show up. Allowance of 48 to 72 hours is given for notification of cancelled bookings, and anyone who does not do this is fined the full cost of his cargo space. This tough measure has brought a large degree of responsibility into the industry and firm plans and charter bookings can now be made with confidence.

Positive points starting to emerge in air transport include the following:

· Full use of scheduled cargo capacity
· 75 to 90% total capacity utilisation of cargo flights
· Realisation of the importance of cold chain and cold store facilities at airports
· The role played by freight forwarders
· Responsible approach by all sectors
· Full government support
· Growers building their own facilities inside airport perimeters.

Transport - sea

Sea freight offers growers the opportunity to export horticultural crops in large quantities at lower cost. Whilst fruit is the main sea-freighted crop, the list can be greatly extended if "controlled atmosphere containers" or the latest concept known as "modified atmosphere packaging" are utilised.

Location of production areas and the distance from port will determine whether exporting by sea is viable or not. The availability of road and rail refrigerated transport is considered essential if quality is to be maintained. However, it is possible to transport citrus up to a week without refrigeration. Present routes through Mozambique are seriously affected by pilferage and theft, with extraordinary precautions having to be taken. Zimbabwe in 1990 suffered losses of USD 3.4 million due to theft of sugar while en route to Maputo, while Swaziland has re-routed its sugar exports through Richards Bay in South Africa for the same reason.

Crops which are considered suitable for export by sea are citrus, deciduous fruit, sub-tropical fruit, pineapples and bananas, all of which are moved in considerable quantities. FOB prices for sea-freighted crops are in many instances the same as if the product was air-freighted, due to the longer time in transport. Pineapples ex Dar es Salaam give the same FOB price for both air freight and sea freight.


Horticultural exports from Africa to EC markets have to compete with high quality products from around the world, many of which are produced in developed countries under modern cultural methods and strict quality control. Quality depends on a combination of field management, post-harvest handling and an efficient transport system from field to market. Quality coming out of the field cannot be improved on, but only maintained, and it is essential in the first instance to produce high quality products.

Field production of high quality products is dependent on the correct selection of seed and variety, spacings, fertilisation, insect and disease control and time of harvest. Post-harvest handling involves reaping under correct conditions, including cutting correctly from the plant, placing into containers that will not damage the product, reaping when temperatures are low and reaping two or three times a day to ensure the product is harvested at the ideal stage. Having reaped correctly, products have to enter the cold chain - be refrigerated as soon as possible and remain so until they are bought by the customer in the retail outlet.

To ensure the most efficient cold chain conditions, products must be reduced in temperature to the ideal for the product as soon as possible. Every farm must have its own cold store complex, and so must the airport where the produce is delivered before export. Some cold chains are more complicated than others. The most sophisticated should have separate intake and dispatch cold stores, with the central grading and packing area also having refrigeration or being subjected to lower temperatures. Time taken for grading and packing must be kept at a minimum to prevent products increasing in temperature during this process. The more sophisticated grading sheds allow for the product to be packed into the airline containers in the dispatch cold store, and the containers being transported to the airport. This process reduces handling considerably and allows the exporter to pack carefully with minimal damage and discolouration to the boxes. A wide variation from the ideal handling system is found in different countries. Whilst Zimbabwe makes the most use of cold stores and suitable transport, one exporter in Tanzania does not have a cold store on the farm, and the first refrigeration takes place at the airport. The importance of refrigeration is widely known. Cold stores are available at all the main airports, apart from Lusaka where the growers are building their own facility. Zimbabwe has the most sophisticated cold stores with several being available, both at the airport and in Harare itself. Plans are developed in Zimbabwe to construct a very modern large cargo terminal which will provide the most modern facilities for horticulture.

In Zimbabwe, freight forwarders play a very significant role in handling exports and maintaining storage under ideal conditions until loading. Several have their own cold stores and handling complexes. In addition, freight forwarders charter flights and compete on freight rates with the national carrier.

Handling of crops for the local market is a major feature of marketing in Zimbabwe. Apples, pears and citrus are stored on farm and by wholesalers, to maintain prices. These crops are stored for three to four months and sold during high price periods. Onions are also stored for up to 5 months for the same reason, but this is only done by the larger producers.

The very significant awareness of quality, and particularly post-harvest handling in Zimbabwe, is due to regular seminars being held with international speakers from USA, Europe and South Africa addressing these meetings. Zimbabwe growers also travel regularly investigating the markets and discussing requirements with their importers. Regular contact cannot be over-stressed.

The high cost of transport in some producing countries can significantly affect the viability of a horticultural export industry. In order for a new industry to survive and develop, very careful consideration must be given to product selection and presentation. Products requiring high capital investment and specialized technical skills are normally in short supply and at high prices, while others which can be produced more easily tend to be over supplied and low priced. High prices can also be achieved by pre-packing and semi-processing at source. Demand is increasingly swinging towards well presented pre-packed products. Attention must be paid to semi-processed products such as vegetables and fruit salads pre-packed at source. These developments, in addition to realising higher prices, can significantly reduce air transport costs by making better use of available air space.

Maximising pre-packing in farm pack-houses. The value per tonne of exports from Zimbabwe of both fruit and vegetables and flowers has increased considerably by selecting the high value lines and varieties and excluding others. In addition, more importance is being placed on value added by

Mangetout prices can be increased by up to one pound sterling by pre-packing instead of selling in 2.5 kg boxes. Likewise, a switch from summer flowers to roses has increased the value per tonne considerably. Indications are that Zambia in particular is following this trend, while recent developments in Malawi could lead to export of pre-packed products to supermarkets.


Following recent bankruptcies of importers in Europe, as a result of which exporters lost a lot of money, it is now more essential than ever for exporters to know who they are dealing with. Records and reputations of importers are well known in the industry and exporters must make enquiries before entering into firm commitments worth hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Payment terms are important in that some imports take 3 to 4 months to pay while others make part payments immediately on shipping with the balance paid 2 to 4 weeks later, after sale.

Recent trends between importers and exporters is towards establishing long term partnerships or understandings for the benefit of both parties. Importers require high quality products on a continuous basis and are prepared to assist growers to achieve this. On the other hand, growers want reliable outlets who will supply all the necessary market information, etc.

This example concludes this section on distribution. Along with price, distribution forms a major element in international marketing and the detail is essential if success is to be guaranteed.

Chapter Summary

Along with price and promotion decisions, a decision has to be made on the distribution system. There are two components to this - the physical (order processing storage/warehousing and transport) and the institutional aspects. The latter involves the choice of agents, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, direct sales or sales forces. Again, each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

However, it is in the channel of distribution that the international marketer can encounter many risks and dangers. These involve many transaction costs both apparent and hidden. Risks include loss in transit, destruction, negligence, non-payment and so on. So careful choice and evaluation of channel partner is a necessity.

Key Terms


Distribution channel

Physical distribution

Basis trading


Resource/Management contracts


Forward markets



Horizontal integration

Vertical integration


Personal trading networks




Review Questions

1. Distinguish between "institutional" and "physical" distribution.

2. What are the principle advantages of using brokers, personalised trading networks and associations in the marketing of international commodities?

3. For any agricultural product of your choice discuss the factors which have to be considered in the choice of a channel of distribution.

Review Question Answers

1. "Institutional" distribution - definition

The middleman between producer and end consumer who may take title and change the form of the product handled, e.g. wholesaler, retailer.

"Physical" distribution - definition

The logistics of the distribution system including transport, storage and order processing.

2a) Brokers


· better informed by buyers and sellers
· socially skilled and adept at forming buyer/seller links
· bring "personal touch" to parties who may not communicate well with each other
· bring economies of scale
· bring stability to market conditions.

Personalised trading


· high context cultural exchange
· minimise administration and paper work
· reduce information, monitoring, bargaining and enforcement costs
· may become proxies for laws
· give priority or focused treatments.

2b) Association


· counter "lumpy investment" phenomenon
· reduce or pool members' risks
· lower transaction costs of members
· reduce marketing costs
· act as a countervailing power between buyers and producers.

3. Factors in channel choice

· company objectives and goals
· resources available
· market knowledge, coverage
· risk of business
· transaction costs
· marketing costs
· language
· space and time utilities
· currency risk
· provision of information on prices and competition
· payment system and credit
· integrity
· infrastructional soundness.

Exercise 10.1 Distribution alternatives

The following exercise is aimed at testing a student's ability to discover the different ways in which products reach their end user market. As such, the student will learn and understand the different methods of market entry and the modalities necessary to achieve this.

Describe fully the method of entry, documentation and other modalities required in the following situations.

a) The export of Zimbabwean flowers to Japan
b) The export of surplus Tanzanian maize to Zambia
c) The export of Nali products (processed chilli sauces) from Malawi to the UK
d) The import of Botswanan beef to the EC
e) The export of John Deere tractors to Kenya
f) The export of Zimbabwean timber products (hard woods, wattle, paper pulp etc.) to Zambia


1. Locher, W." Marketing and Sales". In Training Manual on Cotton Trading Operations. International Trade Centre UNCTAD/GATT, Geneva, 1989, pp 79-112.

2. Collett W. E. "International Transport and Handling of Horticultural Produce". In S. Carter (Ed) Horticultural Marketing. Proceedings of Second Regional Workshop on Horticultural Marketing - Network and Centre for Agricultural Marketing Training in Eastern and Southern Africa, 1991 pp. 268-288.


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

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