Ø-specialiteter® (Island Specialities) – a terroir in Danish

By Laurids Siig Christensen, Taste of Denmark

EU approved regional brand protections have never been widely used in Danish food production - for cultural and geographical reasons. It is difficult to apply a Southern European model for a durable terroir concept in Denmark with all its many islands and moraine landscape. Here, soil conditions change radically within very short distances and even on the smallest islands the climate can vary significantly between inland and coastal areas. The terroir concept Ø-Specialiteter® (Island Specialties) is seeking to promote a re-discovery of the diversity of natural conditions where adaptive food production can accommodate the differences in these natural conditions and thus potentially promote greater sustainability in production. The concept requires product qualities that differentiate them from the qualities associated with other products on the market. Ø-specialiteter® is not just a local brand, it is also a quality label.It has been created in Denmark but aims to develop into an internationally recognized terroir concept.

Among more than 400 named Danish islands, 27 stand out by defining themselves as inhabited, non-bridged and non-privately owned. Each has a population of less than 1,200 people. Taken together their total population is less than 4,500 people.These 27 islands are gathered together in the Association of Danish Small Islands, which, since its foundation in 1974, has reached a series of agreements with state and local authorities with the aim of ensuring local populations can be maintained.Similar organizations exist in other European countries, and together they form the European Small Island Federation(ESIN). 

Food production has been dominant activities in these communities, but development lags far behind the increasing farm size and specialisation of agriculture in the remainder of the country. Logistic costs on small islands are negatively capitalised as prices of land and real estate are generally much lower than in the rest of the country.The combination of low initial costs with high logistical costs in turn means that the incentive to combine primary production with local processing is greater in these locations.Since the turn of the millennium many of the smallholdings and farms on islands have been bought by newcomers who have been driven partly by a vision of ‘the good life’, partly by a vision to produce food in a different way.This has resulted in a number of speciality food producers who are characterised by mastering the many links in the production chain from farm to fork. Examples include:

  •       Production on a number of islands of beef cattle and sheep.
  •       fruit-growing and pressing fruit for juice on Fejø, Strynø and several other islands. 
  •       wine and cider production on Aarø, Fejø and several other islands. 
  •       the brewing of beer on Fur.
  •       production of ice cream on Skarø based on birch juice and seaweed.
  •       the production of free-range geese and ducks with own butchery on Sejerø.
  •       A variety of products based on seaweed and salt herbs on Endelave. 

The producers at the island of Fur in 2005 formed the Small Islands Food Network. Together with other food networks spread all over Denmark the umbrella organization Taste of Denmarkwas established in 2007.

Production of food in small businesses on small islands cannot compete on price with mainstream food production. However, it can compete on quality, on history and on "fair trade" where consumers are willing to pay an additional price in order to support vulnerable communities.The Small Islands Food Network in 2010 registered the brand Ø-specialiteter® to create collective impact in the marketing of island products, to obtain a quantity discount in distribution logistics and to counter non-authentic attempts to exploit the favourable market position developed by island producers. Not insignificantly, island producers of quality foods also add value by helping to raise the profile of small islands and thereby attracting tourism and encouraging residential development.

The criteria in Ø-specialiteter®
Ø-specialiteter® was registered as a trademark as the simplest way to secure the rights to the concept. However,Ø-specialiteter®is also an intellectual copyright relating to a locality. A producer can only obtain permission to use the trademark if it is generally assessed that the producer is an ambassador for small islands in general and the island, in particular, where the producer operates.This means that parameters such as animal welfare, sustainability of production, and willingness and ability to collaborate locally will be included in the assessment.In addition, 2 of the 3 following criteria must be met:

  1.      Raw materials must, as far as possible, be sourced locally and there should be evidence that specific cultural or natural conditions of the locality are reflected in the quality of raw material and/or quality of the food product.
  2.      It should be documented that the production creates employment, and, whenever possible, the labour force must reside locally.
  3.      It should be possible to justify that the idea behind the specific qualities of the product have their starting point in a traditional or innovative adaptation to specific natural conditions of the locality.

These criteria are very similar to, but not identical with the criteria underlying the three local brand protections recognized by the European Commission[i]

  •       Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)
  •       Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) 
  •       Guaranteed Traditional Speciality (GTS). 

Criterion 1 or2 of Ø-specialiter®both meets the requirements for a PGI, while criteria 1 and2 meet the requirements for a PDO.Criterion 3 is consistent with the requirement for a GTS with the significant difference that there is no requirement for Ø-specialiteter® to document prior production for 25 years at the locality.

When the criteria for Ø-specialiteter® were defined consideration was not given to the regulatory framework for the EU Commission recognised local brand protections. However, there are good reasons why these two sets of rules are not identical. The criteria behind Ø-specialiteter® were formulated to create optimal conditions for innovation on the basis of the diverse natural conditions occurring locally.Regardless of which two of the three criteria are being met, Ø-specialiteter® should have a locality dependent unique quality.That only two of the three criteria must be met is due to the argument that sustainable ideas based on natural conditions must allow for the possibility of scaling up.  As this obviously involves collaboration with a world outside the small island, freedom to establish such collaborations must be allowed for.The criteria must also strike a balance between production and intellectual contribution and allow for raw materials and labour to be imported to the island if necessary. A production concept can expand from the island if growth determines it is necessary provided respect is given to the fact that the concept has its origins on an island and a connection to the island is maintained.

The differences in natural conditions are very varied on small islands[ii].These differences can be the amount of sunshine, rainfall, wind conditions, soil conditions; the salinity of the mist from the sea, the absence of predators such as foxes, but it may also be zoosanitary conditions such as the absence of certain infections in relatively closed ecosystems. These can form the basis for a unique product[iii].It is worth noting that some of these natural conditions are available also in coastal areas of the larger islands. This can be a precondition for expansion, for example for jam and preserve production which originally started as an innovative small island company.

The quality characteristics which Ø-specialiteter® claims as its own are equally diverse. In addition to more sustainable ways of production other qualities can be mentioned, including taste, texture, nutritional value, anti-inflammatory and other health-promoting properties and even zoosanitary status as well as anti- and probiotic properties.

Regional and/or quality labelling?
For the consumer, a regional mark on a product provides a reassurance that the product has a certain origin and/or a particular and consistent quality.There is a willingness to pay for this, as the EU-recognized regional brands generally command a price premium of 20-30%[iv].In this context one must note that in the world market the Danish food already achieves a significant price premium - 41% of Danish exports of food and food technology has a value that is 20% above the EU average[v].Therefore, additional regional labelling might not always add to the ‘Made in Denmark’ label.  Yet, the willingness to pay above average prices for Danish quality is emphasized by the fact that island specialties, although they are at the very high end of the Danish pricing, generally do not experience problems of marketing and sales. Rather, the great challenge is to meet the demand both nationally and internationally.
The EU-recognized regional brand protections are not necessarily applicable to all products and producers in Denmark.There are several reasons for this:
Large scale producers and food retailers wish to produce and sell a uniform and consistent product from a large area. Examples include the PGI-labelled cheeses, Esrom and Danablu as well as Danbo and Havarti where permission for PGI certification is applied for.There are very few larger coherent land areas in Denmark with both unique and uniform production conditions. Two such areas should be mentioned: Southwest Jutland tidal marsh and Lammefjorden. These have specifically related PGI labels for lamb and beef and carrots and potatoes, respectively. 

Diversification of the Danish food landscape over the last decade or so has been largely driven by small and medium sized food companies. These companies do not enjoy the privilege of being able to cover large geographical areas.For companies/producers like these, attempts to define a site of special natural conditions will often result in a very small region/area resulting in limited growth opportunities, or it will result in pools of similar types of landscape spread across municipal, regional and even national borders – like e.g. small islands and marsh landscapes.The only product in Denmark for which an authorisation for PDO marking is granted, is a quality sparkling wine, DONS [vi], and it is an example of the limitations, terroir certification can have in Denmark.The grapes which give Dons its distinct qualities come from the glacial sand and gravel soils that are only found in a narrow valley close to the village of Dons. The manufacture of the wine is done in the same locality. The applicant is the company Skærsøgaard Wine, which has a total land holding of 42 ha. Besides this company only landowners of the 500 ha of the same soil quality in this locality will be able to use the PDO - should any of them decide to produce wine. 

In Southern Europe the production of wines and other alcoholic beverages has historically played a significant role in the development of the terroir-mindset.France is using the labelling Apellation d'origine contrôlée(AOC) and Italy has similar Denominazione d'Origine Controllata(DOC), both of which are now attempted to be EU-harmonized within the PGI / PDO-local certification/label.The EU, however, faces resistance from southern European tasters whose evaluation of wines is based on a variety of traditions and privileges. Both AOC and DOC are still very alive and act as a basis for pricing among the major buyers of retail chains and in the hospitality/restaurant industry.

Other problems exist for Danish wine producers that want to obtain a PGI label. The European Parliament and Council Regulation (2012) has simply divided Denmark into four wine regions, Jutland, Funen, Zealand and Bornholm[vii].Related criteria for wines produced in the four regions exist, but a winegrower in Jutland can produce a wine that qualify for Zealand and vice versa – yet can not obtain the PGI.It is tempting to conclude that many wine consumers will always be able to know the difference between an Amarone DOC and a Bordeaux AOC. However, hardly any customer segment is expected to develop a palate that will be able to distinguish a Funen wine from a Zealand wine. PGI labelling of Danish wines loses therefore a quality-based rationale.It is equally clear that the small islands in the inner Danish waters south of Funen and Zealand have several production conditions in common. They have therefore the opportunity to develop a common quality standard, rather than for example Aarø has with the area of the ridge in Jutland, or Fejø has with Sealand's Point.

Facultative quality terms
Ø-specialiteter® is the first, unique territorial and quality label developed in Denmark with the objective to compensate for the fact, that the EU-recognised regional brand protections are not always applicable or the best form of labelling for products with very specific and localised qualities. Ø-specialiteter® can be equated with the concept Facultative quality terms,also mentioned in the EU Parliament and Council Regulation (2012)[viii]as a complement to the three local labels, PGI, PDO and TSG.

These three EU regional labels target an approval based on a fixed set of proven product specifications for a single product. The facultative quality terms work against "special horizontal characteristics of one or more categories of products, processes or processing methods applicable in certain areas”.Until now only onefacultative quality term 'mountain product' has been developed[ix]. ‘Mountain’ is a local definition, which is not bounded, but applies for regions with similar characteristics, just spread out across Europe.

Within the EU other facultative quality terms have been considered. Activities have been initiated to develop these, including one for "island product”.The Small Islands Food Network in Denmark presented criteria for Ø-specialiteter® as a Danish suggestion on the definition of such a quality certification[x]. The recommendation was that the starting point could be the already existing criteria for Ø-specialiteter® and thus develop these – rather that adopting a significantly less ambitious concept that would only dilute the value of already established territorial and/or quality marks.The EU has not yet adopted a quality certification of island products and it is not expected that this will happen in the near future.Following this, the Small Islands Food Network and The Taste of Denmark took the initiative of seeking a consensus for an international terroir concept of island specialties.Small island associations in other European countries have expressed an interest in engaging in such cooperation the objective being internationally to increase the marketing value of quality specificities which are based in terms of food production on these small islands. On the basis of producer networks it may be possible to reach a critical mass where Ø-specialiteter® can be developed into an EU-approved facultative quality term.

Contact information:
Laurids Siig Christensen
E-mail: siig@horsekaer.dk
Phone: +45 40 15 53 01
Smagen af Danmark (

[i]EU Council (2006a).EU Council (2006a).Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 of 20 March 2006 on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs (Oj L 93, 23.12.2006 p. 12).Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 of 20 March 2006 on the protection of Geographical Indications and Designations of origin for Agricultural Products and Foodstuffs (Oj L 93, 23.12.2006 p. 12).
EU Council (2006b).EU Council (2006b).Commission Regulation (EC) No 1898/2006 of 14 December 2006 laying down detailed rules of implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 (Oj L 369, 23.12.2006 p. 1)Commission Regulation (EC) No 1898/2006 of 14 December 2006 laying down detailed rules of implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 (Oj L 369, 23.12.2006 p. 1)

[ii]Christensen, LS (2011) De danske småøer – en erhvervsudviklingsstrategi.Christensen, LS (2011) The Danish islands - A business development strategy(http://www.smagenafdanmark.dk/media/2696007/seuc_rapport.pdf)

[iii]Christensen, LS, Sørensen, J., Hoorfar, J., and Bisgaard, S. (2012) Documenting the terroir aspects of award-winning Danish conserves: a model for the development of authentic food products.In: Case studies in food safety and quality management: Lessons from real-life situations (Ed. J. Hoorfar) Woodhead Publishing.Chapter 38: 342-348.Chapter 38: 342-348
Christensen, LS (2012) The free-range meat paradox: the conflict between free-range poultry production systems and biocontainment against zoonotic microorganisms.In: Case studies in food safety and quality management: Lessons from real-life situations (Ed. J. Hoorfar) Woodhead Publishing.Chapter 21: 189-197.Chapter 21: 189-197.

[iv]SCHAMEL, G. (2007) Auction markets for specialty food products with geographical Indications.Agricultural Economics 37: 257-264.

[v]Landbrug og Fødevarer, 2014, Fakta om Erhvervet, s. 17 og 67.Agriculture and Food, 2014 Facts about the profession, p. 17 and 67.

[vi]Skærsøgaard Vin (2011) Produktspecifikation for DONS Beskyttet Oprindelsesbetegnelse (BOB) for en mousserende kvalitetsvin. Skærsøgaard Wine (2011) Product Specification for DONS Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for a quality sparkling wine. Http://www.foedevarestyrelsen.dk/SiteCollectionDocuments/Kemi%20og%20foedevarekvalitet/Varestandarder-handelsnormer-kvalitet/Produktspecifikation%20Dons%20rev%20nov% 202 014% 20% 282% 29.pdf


[viii]European Parliament and Council Regulation (EU) No. 1151/2012 of 21 November 2012on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs.Official Journal L343 / 1 of 14.12.2012.

[ix]Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 665/2014 of 11 March 2014 supplementing Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to conditions of use of the optional quality term 'mountain product'

[x]Christensen, LS (2013) Island Specialties (Ø-specialiteter®) of Denmark – Chauvinism, fair trade or terroir?In EU island farming and the labelling of its products (Eds. Santini, et al.), EUR no.In EU island farming and the labeling of its products (Eds. Santini, et al.), EUR no.26265 EN.26 265 A.S. 80-83. S. 80-83. Http://ipts.jrc.ec.europa.eu/publications/pub.cfm?id=6809