Organic Articles: E-organics?, March 2001

The Organic Consultancy

E-organics?

by Simon Wright

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2001 edition of Organic Business.

As far as the organic industry is concerned, there are two main types of Internet site. These are:

  • Business To Consumer (b2c), offering product information, education and in some cases, e-tail goods (ordered through the Internet).
  • Business To Business (b2b), also offering information services but more importantly providing ingredient sourcing.

b2c

Three examples of this type of site are:

  • http://www.alara.co.uk – a website that allows purchasers of Alara muesli to see pictures of the farms where each organic ingredient is grown
  • http://www.greenandblacks.com – visitors to the Green & Black’s site can win a hamper of their superior organic chocolates
  • http://www.uk5.org – an entertainment website designed to support Utkins UK5 Organic Vodka but also featuring environmental and sports information

The Soil Association site, http://www.soilassociation.org
, is an example of a well designed, information-rich site that is often the first point of call for the organic-aware consumer. Few sites do retail well, one being http://www.abel-cole.co.uk
which makes full use of the graphic opportunities offered by Shockwave software to promote the Abel & Cole box scheme for the home delivery of organic fruit and vegetables, giving subscribers advance warning of what will be in this weeks box. Meanwhile, Waitrose Direct (http://www.waitrose.co.uk/organics
) provides a delivery service on organics to either home or office.

b2b

There are several useful b2b information sites. Nic Lampkin’s department at Aberystwyth University posts useful information on organic agriculture throughout the EU at http://www.wirs.aber.ac.uk/research/organic.shtml, while http://www.organicTS.com is a free site which alerts subscribers to new articles via a weekly email.

Farmers who are interested in supplying the American organic frozen food company Cascadian Farm with fruit and vegetables can find out how to do it from http://www.cfarm.com. My own website, http://www.organic-consultancy.com, aims to provide some basic information on organics as well as a guide to the services on offer, but the prime function is to encourage direct contact with my business.

By far the most useful contribution the Internet can make to the organic industry is in ingredient sourcing. The key sites are http://www.tradeorganex.com (see case history), http://www.unitednatureX.com (case history) and http://www.tradinorganic.com. No online trading is offered by http://www.tradinorganic.com, the site is information only but gives a useful guide to the organic commodities offered by Tradin BV. A new Italian entrant to online organic ingredient sourcing is http://www.naturabella.com.

The future for Internet-only propositions is uncertain, but businesses that integrate the Internet into their other activities can expect to do well. There is a tendency in other parts of the food industry for information-only websites to move from a subscription basis to free access, and it is difficult to see why organics should be different. However, the trading sites can expect an exciting future the proliferation of organic ingredient sourcing sites will inevitably be followed by consolidation and mergers with only the best resourced sites surviving.

Case History: b2c – Sainsbury’s

Until recently Sainsbury’s consumer information was found at http://www.sainsburys.co.uk. However this site has now merged with the highly respected Carlton Food Channel to form Taste, with the organic section located at http://www.taste.co.uk/organics. A third element is the addition of the TV channel OnDigital. The Taste organic site has a regular news update with features such as the organic company of the month and organic restaurant reviews. Links are provided to other carefully selected sites such as the Sainsbury’s direct delivery service and the Seeds of Change website. This collaborative approach offers an innovative way forward for b2c sites.

Case History b2b: TradeOrganex and unitednatureX

Both these companies offer an organic commodity sourcing service, in each case underpinned by non-internet organic trading teams. unitednatureX evolved from Green Trade Net. The site allows for direct product requests to be made using the onsite search engine. Support is offered for logistics, Quality Assurance and certification, and is financed by the seller paying a commission of 0.8% -4.85%, which is claimed to be a lower commission than any other sales method.

TradeOrganex has evolved from Finest Organics which means the staff involved are all experts in their product categories. The site is transactional and aims to add value through the provision of product information, auditing trails and certification information. As with unitednatureX the site works in conjunction with non-internet trading operations. The Internet presence has been found to work well as a marketing tool, as an internal database and as a highly efficient communication method, creating a community of users. However the human touch is also required to build partnerships and assist good customer relations, to assess customer potential, to respond to problems as they occur and to allow Trade Organex to be totally informed on changes in the organic marketplace.