Big-up the real organic brands

Charles Redfern - 03 April 2012

Supermarket organic sales are down again. Sales of supermarket own-label organic are down by 9.5% and organic brands sold in supermarkets are down by 2.9%. The shelf space for organic products has been reduced and so have the number of organic products on offer. This was the bad news from the Soil Association organic market report 2012.

I have been warning about this supermarket angle for years. Organic is an integrity story. It is about whole-brand provenance and it needs investment to broadcast the good news.

Too many people rubber-stamped the rush to create supermarket organic own-labels some years back as a positive sign but what this meant is that a supermarket own-label organic product took the place of a "real" organic brand.  

By real I don't mean the supermarket brand is not properly organic in a certified or controlled sense, I mean that it isn't from a company that is totally committed to organic, wants to communicate the benefits of organic, or develops its organic products within a holistic or contextual approach.  

Buying is all about psychology. A supermarket own-label is the difference between watching a tribute band or the original: if you like the Rolling Stones you would not prefer to see the Rolling Rocks or if you like Abba, tickets to see Baba would not be quite the same thing.

Martin Seligman, author of Flourish, and one of the US's most famous psychologists, makes exactly the same point with regards to art forgeries: they can be identical to the original but no one values the forgery.  

Seligman also says that the very same wine served in either a cheap or expensive bottle actually tastes different. That's right – it tastes different. The point is our value and perception systems intervene in the act of consuming itself. 

Organic own-label came in far too early in the UK before our market had fully matured. Carrefour is doing its organic own-label but there is enough of a real organic hardcore brand sector in every category in France to allow for the believability of the organic sector. In the UK we have only a handful of organic brands representing true organic foods well; and often these have been taken over by multi-national corporations leading to the same tepid engagement in the values of organic.  

I predict the same will happen to fair trade, with a gradual loss of consumer confidence as the mega-brands and supermarket organic own-label muscle in on the sector to provide themselves with an ethical halo.  

So – everybody involved in organic: big-up the real organic brands.

Here's another message: multiples failing may be good news for indies, but some indies are doing exactly the same, stripping back down to Aldi-style brands, driven entirely by low prices. Too many products are now just too cheap in the independent sector, it's a sector that is being "Ratnerised".

I completely believe in affordability. But the other side of consumer affordability is producer-impoverishment – something gives somewhere along the line. There is a cheapening and a loss of values. To arrive at fair pricing, a delicate balance must be struck . 

The UK too often goes down the £1 shop route, the price of everything, the value of nothing... 

Charles is the founder of the ethical canned fish company, Fish4Ever, the sister company of Organico, both based in Reading. Fish4Ever's motto is Land, Sea and People. Its land ingredients are 100% organic - supporting traditional fishing communities is as important as saving the fish. He is currently involved in a number of awareness-raising campaigns working with WWF, Sustainable Fish City, the Environmental Justice Foundation and the Marine Conservation Society.

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Comments



Elisabeth Winkler
22 April 2012 12:49

The Organic Market report shows organic sales in the independent sector have gone up - good news! You are right to question how a huge industrial complex such as the supermarket system can do organic food justice. On the other hand, supermarkets have also made organic food more accessible. What a conundrum. For my money, local organic is best. (And fresh local organic produce does indeed taste better - not only perception, maybe?).

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