Product quality or market regulation? Explaining the slow growth of Europe's wine cooperatives, 1880–1980

Authors:
Eva Fernández, James Simpson
Published Online:
01 Jun 2016
DOI:
10.1111/ehr.12338
Pages:
122–142
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 70 Issue 1

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Wine cooperatives were relatively scarce in Europe before the Second World War, but by the 1980s accounted for more than half of all wines made in France, Italy, and Spain, the three major producer countries. Unlike Danish dairy cooperatives, whose success before the First World War was linked to their ability to improve product quality and compete in high‐value niche markets, wine cooperatives are often associated with the production of large volumes of low‐quality products. This article argues that the initial slow diffusion of wine cooperatives was caused by the difficulties of improving quality due to environmental conditions in European vineyards (‘terroir’) and measurement problems, rather than institutional shortcomings. Cooperatives only became widespread when the state found them a useful instrument to regulate markets, especially after 1950. The problems associated with poor wine quality were never resolved, and cooperatives have become increasingly uncompetitive in the market place, especially following the major decline in per capita consumption and shift towards premium wines from the 1980s.

© Economic History Society 2016

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