Organic Articles: Knowledge Is Power

The Organic Consultancy

Knowledge Is Power

by Simon Wright

This article originally appeared in the June 2001 edition of Organic Business.

This years Natural Products show featured a well-attended seminar entitled “Retailing In The Real World” where a whole session was devoted to discussing how independent retailers should respond to supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Waitrose now selling over 1000 organic lines. One point made by speaker Pippa Sterry of As Nature Intended and subsequently echoed by delegates was the importance of staff training. Pippa used to work for Sainsbury’s so when she says that training is one area where the independent retailer has an advantage her views carry some weight.

As Nature Intended, Planet Organic and Fresh & Wild all place great emphasis on staff training and bring in guest speakers to talk about specific topics. Confident, well-trained staff who can talk one-to-one to customers about organic food are going to be a great asset to any store. However even here independent stores cannot rest on their laurels. Already Sainsbury’s are sending all their new buyers off to an organic farm for a days intensive training and there are plans to roll out organic training a lot further

Why take training seriously ? Whenever I have a chance to talk to consumers about organic food and answer their questions I end up winning a few more over to the cause. Anyone who talks factually but with passion about key organic benefits such as food quality, animal welfare and environmental benefits can do the same. The other good reason to ensure staff are well trained is defensive. The ASA has recently been critical of claims made in print by Tescos, Sainsbury’s and the Soil Association. What claims are being made for organic food by sales staff ? How would you answer the question “Is organic food always free from pesticides?” Or “Is organic food always GM-free?”. Answering difficult questions is important, not least because of what lies ahead in media terms. Usually reliable sources (ie people I meet in bars) tell me that there are two high-profile televison programmes underway which will put the integrity of organics under the microscope. The first of these will be broadcast in June, whilst a three part series will air early next year.

A final thought. In the USA the Organic Trade Association offers a training programme, manual and CD for retailers called Good Organic Retailing Practices. This has the dual advantage of ensuring the organic sector stays within the law in terms of what it says and does whilst providing a source of income for the OTA. An interesting thought for any UK organic organisation who wanted to raise its public profile whilst earning some dosh…