Moving organic forward: UK industry assesses plans to reignite sales
Finding consensus in the UK organic food movement can be like nailing jelly to a wall. Rapid growth in the last 15 years has meant organics has major brands with multinational backers (think Green & Black’s or Rachel’s Organic). But, hundreds of smaller, regional producers also battling the downturn remain – meaning the sector houses many different views over how to move organic forward. Tuesday (22 September) in London, the Organic Trade Board, laid out its plans to reignite stagnant sales.
Here are the best quotes from the day’s events:
“I think we all agree there needs to be something here and now which raises the attention of consumers. There is a need for consumer marketing and dramatic campaign headlines” – Finn Cottle, trade director, Organic Trade Board.
“This is your industry. We all need to come together. We are all trying to build our individual businesses but it will be a far easier job if the whole industry works together” – Huw Bowles, OTB chair and COO of organic dairy co-op OMSCo.
“The key part in turning around organics is more value for money” – Andrea Mulqueen, Tesco senior organic produce buyer.
“The price differential [to a standard product] should be in the region of 20%. Prices shouldn’t be any greater than premium brands. If prices are more than premium brands, then organic doesn’t stand much of a chance of appealing to consumers” – Cottle.
“When baby food got down to that 20% price premium, it made a huge difference. Our sales really started to move on. We only reached that point and we went through every step of our supply chain and took out inefficiencies. Our sales doubled. It was almost like magic” – Lizzie Vann, founder of organic baby food maker Organix.
“We don’t have a mark-up. If you look at the waste percentage we pay for, that’s a lot higher than conventional so we have to take that into account as well when we look at organic products” – Mulqueen.
“My experience is not one of any specific profiteering from organic. It’s just the difference in margin and retail price” – Cottle [ex-Sainsbury’s and Somerfield].
“The category that has been bucking the trend over the past 12 months has been milk… [But] within dairy, there are tremendous misconceptions [on price]. In cheese, we’ve got Alvis Brothers cheesemakers or Yeo Valley with very small market share and yet they are exactly the same price as the leading non-organic brand. People say ‘I don’t buy organic cheese because it’s too expensive.’ Price is a misconception” – Bowles.
“How are we going to persuade someone who is buying a value chicken to move to organic? No, what we are looking for is people who are buying free-range chickens and moving them up the next step chain. We’re not going to get someone who is buying Canadian basic cheddar to all of a sudden buy organic. It’s about those people who buy premium products at the moment and getting them to switch to organic” – Bowles.
“The problem with organic is not about less households buying products. It’s been about those households who have been buying are not buying them as regularly” – Rachel’s Organic marketing director Steve Clarke.
“Consumers really need a reason to believe in organic. The most pressing concern was that consumers were unsure about what organics stood for and see it as interchangeable with Fairtrade and free-range” – Mulqueen.
“I would hate to see a situation where we support organic as a single issue” – Dr Nic Lampkin, executive director of the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm.
“Fairtrade does what it says on the tin. If you stop people on the street, and ask them about Fairtrade, you would get the basic gist of what it’s about. Free-range equals happy hens. It’s an emotional benefit you’re getting. The eggs may not taste better but you feel clear about your place in the supply chain” – Ed Garner, communications director, TNS.
“The problem with organic is that quite a lot of people say “And?” Just saying it’s organic will only appeal to a few people. Organic on its own isn’t a claim. The claim is that it’s healthier or tastes better. It has to link to something consumers will perceive.” – Garner.
“We need to think about who is going to be our organic buyer in 25-30 years time. It means picking up on people leaving home and going to university. They are not big spenders but you need to get them engaged with the environmental consciousness they have in school and taking that then on when they become more affluent. As part of our campaigning, it is really important to pick up on those sort of groups. Social networking sites really do have a strong part to play” – Lampkin.
“When people buy into a story and understand, they will get their wallets out and pay the extra – even in a recession” – Garner.
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