Organic Articles: The People In Your Pantry

The Organic Consultancy

The People In Your Pantry

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

Behind the wide variety of organic food and drink now on sale lies an equally varied selection of entrepreneurs and organic pioneers. Simon Wright of The Organic Consultancy has interviewed ten of the men and women who produce our organic food to discover their hopes, fears, motivation and achievements (and the first record they ever bought). This article originally appeared in organiclife magazine for March / April 2002

Craig Sams

Chairman, The Soil Association

At 57 (“and proud of it”) Craig is one of the senior figures in the UK organic world. Born in the USA he has lived in the Portobello Road area of London for many years and is the creator of the Whole Earth organic grocery brand, and more recently of the Green & Black’s brand of organic chocolate. Craig became involved with organic food in India in 1965 after being cured of hepatitis through adopting an organic and macrobiotic diet. Setting up an organic cocoa project in Belize in 1994 is Craig’s proudest achievement – “it has had a transformative effect on the economy on the Southern part of the country”. Recently elected as Chairman of the Soil Association Craig’s ambition for 2002 is to get the Soil Association onto a sound financial footing. His fear for organics is that “there is the ever present danger that organics will become marginalised through its own exclusivity. If standards move too far away from what consumers care about and what can actually be achieved then there is the danger that organics will become just one of many food quality standards rather than the universal criterion for excellence”. First record bought? “I Put A Spell On You by Screaming Jay Hawkins in 1956.”

Chantelle Ludski

Chief Operating Officer, Fresh! Organics

A more recent entrant to organics, Chantelle was born in South Africa and got interested in organics around 1995. Since then she has moved to Chiswick and set up the Fresh! Range of organic takeways in London. Her favourite organic product is the Fresh! Organic Cajun Chicken Sandwich – “I love spicy food and this is the best!”. Her view is that “organic food is here to stay – if it is marketed correctly and everyone involved stays true to the princples of organics it should be a significant chunk of the retail market for many years to come”. However she is concerned about quality “I think that some people forget that food always needs to taste great – that’s what makes consumers buy it and come back again”. Chantelle would like to see increased government support for organics and for research into the nutritional and health benefits of organics. First record bought? Abba 1978 (“I can’t remember which one, but I can picture the cover!”).

Andrew Whitley

Founder and Managing Director, The Village Bakery

Whilst working for the BBC in 1972 Andrew Whitley heard EF Schumaker speak about how Small is Beautiful. Andrew’s early experiments in growing wheat in an allotment in Stoke Newington eventually lead to him setting up the award-winning Village Bakery in Melmerby, Cumbria where he lives and bakes today. From the Village Bakery range his favourite product is the Borodinsky organic rye bread “because it is delicious and because the story of its origin – bread-fortified Russions kick foie-gras-savouring Napoleon out of Russia in 1812 – testifies to a respect for bread and its place in food culture that I find moving.” Andrew hopes that “organic food will become everyone’s birthright and that the chemical years will come to be seen as a historical abberation, the misbegotten offspring of an unholy coupling of reductionist science and human greed. Organic food can and must become the norm.” Andrew’s ambition for 2002 is to open an Organic Education Area at the Village Bakery “dedicated to the notion that armed with a humble loaf of bread you can embark on a voyage of discovery that encompasses much of what’s important to people and their long-suffering planet”. First record bought? Dedicated To the One I Love by The Mamas And The Papas.

Lorraine Brehme

Company Director, Clipper

After a colourful and varied career Lorraine joined her husband Mike in setting up Clipper as an organic tea importer. Lorraine lives in a “wonderfully isolated spot in the heart of Dorset – we can see the sea from the bottom of the garden, helps me to keep things in perspective”. Lorraine’s parents gew most of their food without fertilisers or pesticides so that when she left home “I couldn’t understand why the vegetables in the shops didn’t taste as good as they did at home!”. A vegetarian since the age of 19 pretty much everything Lorraine eats is organic. “The problem with being in the food industry is that I know how food is produced, which makes it almost impossible for me to eat anything except organic food.” From the Clipper range Lorraine usually drinks Green tea “although at the moment my favourite is Indian Chai, drunk sweet and milky”. She is optimistic about the prospects for organic food. “As long as organic is seen as high quality and farmers are paid more than the cost of production then I think we could have 50% of all food sold being organic by 2022.” However she is worried that as larger manufacturers enter the organic sector there will be pressure to lower organic standards. Lorraine’s plans for 2002 are to spend more time with her family (“whilst the children still want to be with us!”) and to generate much wider understanding as to what the terms ‘organic’ and ‘fair trade’ mean and how they can work together. First record bought? Monster by Jimmy Smith.

Rupert Maitland-Titterton

General Manager, Heinz Organic Foods

Heinz certainly fits the bill as far as a large manufacturer of organic foods following the launch of organic spaghetti, beans , ketchup and now soups. An organic consumer himself (“fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy and of course baked beans!”) Rupert is most proud of getting Heinz into organic food production, where sales are now 20 million per year. Like many people Rupert admits that he got interested in organics when his first child moved onto solid food. That was in 1998. Today his favourite Heinz organic product is the tomato ketchup. Rupert’s hopes for organic food are that it will “get people talking about food, food, food” : his fears are that “the beneficial claims for organic food cannot be substantiated and that consumers will not understand what organic food is all about because they will be hearing many different organic explanations”. Having run the London marathon and cycled from Athens to London Rupert’s ambition for 2002 is to unicycle along the tow path from the source to the mouth of the Thames! First record bought? Discovery by ELO.

Charlotte Mitchell

Managing Director, Go Organic

Charlotte’s passion for organic food started in 1976 in Edinburgh, where she still lives. “I started work for a natural food store in Edinburgh called Real Foods – I was even giving talks to Women’s Institutes about why you should eat brown bread and rice and the importance of a healthy diet. I knew then that I had MS and so was hugely motivated to learn more about how a good diet is related to good health. Once you develop a passion for nutrition then organic food is a natural step.” Having been chair of the Soil Association Charlotte Charlotte is most proud of starting up a new company Go Organic (“in my mid forties!”). “I wanted to produce delicious and nutritious organic food, which is hassle-free for people who (like me) don’t have the time or energy to cook. However, what really gives me a glow is seeing my two children grow up healthy and strong on a good nutritious, organic diet.” Charlotte’s favourite Go Organic product is Scotch Broth. “It has lots of vegetables and grains, bags of taste – really warms you up on a chilly winter’s day”. She would like to see children being taught in school about food production and the importance of organic agriculture “so they may make an informed choice about their lives when they grow up. Children are our future, they understand that we cannot continue to pollute our world in the way that we have been doing without paying a terrible price, including their health.” Like Lorraine, Charlotte is concerned that there will be a watering down of organic standards. “It seems that many consumers do not understand that organic means a system of agriculture and not just no chemicals”. First record bought? Please, Please Me by the Beatles (“My passion for music equals my passion for food.”)

Chris Parker

Managing Director, The Organic Spirits Company

A veteran of the sprits world Chris entered organics in 1996 and now produces organic gin, vodka and rum. He admits to being 60 (“to my surprise”) and is most proud of his Juniper Green Organic Gin being voted best gin at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in a blind tasting. Chris feels that “organics should have unlimited potential” but echoes fears about product quality. ” We have seen our competitors produce organic spirits using modern factory methods thereby ripping the heart out of the quality – consumers react by finding organic no better than traditional and never buy again. That is the biggest danger to our sector and many others.” First record bought? Donald’s Where’s Your Trousers? by Andy Stewart.

Hugh Mowat

Technologist for Organic Fruit, Salads and Vegetables, Marks & Spencer

Hugh first got involved with organics 10 years ago. “I was working on a non-organic farm and I started getting interested in why we did the things we did. I was like a six year old who doesn’t stop asking ‘why’. Some of the farming practices, from my point of view, did not make sense. Talking to organic farmers did not provide all the answers but did suggest quite a few.” Although he works in central London Hugh has to commute “I had to move out of London, because my window box was just not big enough! I wanted to have a garden – so I am now living in a village near Reading.” Hugh hopes that “more people start taking an interest in what organic production systems are trying to achieve. I also hope the interest increases in other areas of organic production such as organic clothing as well as related issues of environmental sustainability such as packaging and renewable energy. ” Hugh worries that the increasing competition amongst organic organisations in different countries for ever higher standards is leading to a confusing situation for customers rather than than the good intended. “Customers want to be able to rely on organic authenticity, and this would be made much easier by all organic organisations working together with a single organic food production standard. “. He is optimistic about the future – “there is an increasing demand by customers to know where their food is coming from and why. The more people learn, the more they are able to ask important and probing questions. Organic principles are already seeping into some parts of conventional food production practices.” First record bought? Spirit in the Sky by Dr and the Medics.

Lizzie Vann

Managing Director, Organix Brands

Another resident of Dorset, the head of Organix baby food first became involved with organics at an early age.” I ate organics at the age of 16, got involved with a shop selling it at 17 and worked with the Northern Wholefoods Co-Op at 18.” Organix was set up in 1992 and Lizzie is most proud of the fact that she has helped to increase organic baby food sales from zero to over 40% of the market today. Her favorite produce from the Organix range is the Organic Apple & Raspberry Fruit and Cereal bar – “they have a really strong fruity taste and are moist and soft – irresistible when you’re working late!”. Known for her strong views, Lizzie is another who fears for the dilution of organic standards “Let’s not forget that the profit motive that has destroyed the quality of many conventional foods is also at work in the organic food industry and needs to be constantly tempered with a set of real principles and real thought about the responsibility the industry has for its own future.” Her hopes for the future are equally forthright. “I would like to see the organic standards gradually embrace fair trade principles both for producers in the developing world and for producers in the UK, a clearer set of regulations about nutritional standards and more informative labelling. ” First record bought? ” Be serious! I’m not going to embarrass myself THAT much!”

William Kendall

Chief Executive, Whole Earth Foods

As a farmer William first became interested in organics “when I realised that it might provide a solution to some of the destruction of the English countryside that I was being forced to participate in as a farmer dependent on CAP subsidies. I first detected serious interest in organic food amongst consumers during my time as Managing Director of the New Covent Garden Soup Company”. Despite the commercial success of the Whole Earth organic grocery brand and more recently the Green & Black’s range of organic chocolate William is “most proud of the decision to start converting our Suffolk farm to organic. There are very few organic farmers in our part of the world and most of my neighbours think the decision was mad and dangerous but, whatever the commercial consequences, the environmental benefits even in the early years have justified the decision.” William practises what he preaches “I can’t start the day without Whole Earth Organic Muesli”. Like Lizzie, William worries that the organic label will be hijacked by “bandwagon jumpers who fail to understand that most consumers are trying to buy something fundamentally different. Such organisations will ultimately fail but there is a danger that the future will bring down the whole market. I believe that having an organic status will eventually become a platform for all mainstream quality food. In the future many other quality selling points will have to be developed in order to differentiate particular organic lines. I also believe that it could provide a future for much of Britain’s farming land.” First record bought? Dark Side of the Moon by the Pink Floyd. “I became a punk rocker soon after, buying The Clash and The Damned. It sounds quite sad now.”