How digital trade platforms allow small producers to stay relevant in big markets

Local retail market opportunities for Serbian specialty foods is challenging, with hundreds of micro and small businesses competing for limited demand. Given short enterprise lifecycles of only 2-3 years and limited growth potential, a viable alternative lies in online sales which offer direct access to consumers. Since establishing e-stores can be quite expensive, existing sales platforms could offset these challenges.

The Big Small Businesses project (the Project) partnered with the platform Small-Scale Food Producers in Serbia (the Platform) to establish a free-of-charge educational hub known as the “Small-Scale Food Producers Academy” (the Academy). The partnership targets predominantly smaller households and micro food processors to provide them with know-how to upgrade their products and services, while also expanding their portfolio and producing attractive marketing narratives.

Small-Scale Food Producers in Serbia was established in 2019 as a Facebook group, and in 2021, it developed into an online platform linking rural food producers with urban consumers. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it provided vital support to small households and successfully connected over 1,700 producers with a consumer base exceeding 145,000 individuals.

The newly established Academy is a one-stop shop for producers, providing them with the information needed to start production that is compliant with all regulations. Businesses will have access to 14 video tutorials covering essential aspects of business registration, production regulations, safety protocols, and marketing strategies. Additionally, bazaar events will be organized in Niš, Novi Pazar, and Negotin (southeast, southwest, and eastern Serbia) to support local food producers and introduce the Academy to a broader audience. At the same time, the Platform acts as an umbrella activity that will sustain and replicate its e-commerce model, fostering income generation and supporting women’s self-employment in rural areas. It will also provide opportunities for youth-led farms and households to engage effectively in similar ventures.

Small-Scale Food Producers Academy was publicly launched at the end of February, and in its first two months, it achieved the following:

  – Seven videos were recorded and posted on the platform, five of which were heavily promoted through social media and PR, resulting in over 40,000 views so far. Check out the positive comments of followers here:  Mali proizvođači – YouTube

– The production of seven new videos has been completed and their promotion will start at the end of April

– Bazaar events will be organized during the next six months With extensive marketing efforts, including social media advertising, the plan is to reach around 100,000 views by the end of the year, engage up to 1,000 aspiring producers, and attract a minimum of 200–250 new small-scale food producers that register on the sales platform over the next three years.