Organic Articles: Bio Diversity

The Organic Consultancy

Bio Diversity

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the February 2003 edition of Organic Business.

I had lunch at the Ritz this week not something I do very often (or indeed at all) but it was a Special Occasion and it allowed me to sample their new organic menu. And very impressive it was too. The menu clearly indicates which dishes are organic by putting a tiny Soil Association logo against each organic option. There were two organic starters and four organic main courses, including vegetarian alternatives. The standard of service and quality of cooking were everything you would expect and it all made for a wonderful and memorable occasion.

The next day I noticed that Tesco were including some organic products in their post-Christmas price cuts organic spaghetti was the example I noted. So on successive days I had experienced organic food being used by one of the UK’s premier hotels to embody the highest standards of culinary excellence, followed by the UK’s largest supermarket using organic food to emphasise their ability to screw prices down to the last penny. What’s going on ?

The answer is that organic food now runs through all aspects of the food industry like lettering through a stick of rock. I have also recently encountered organic cakes in department stores, organic milk in Pret A Manger (and proposed for McDonalds) and organic burgers in schools. Whilst I applaud the ability of organic food to reach into all aspects of our life I have two reservations.

My first concern is price cutting of organic food so as to encourage trial. I do not know anyone who has made this work long-term. I remain unconvinced that cutting prices alone brings in new consumers (if you know differently please get in touch). Education, promotion and sampling appear to offer greater scope to build organic sales without taking value out of the chain. My second concern is that organic regulations are lagging behind the market. Despite the excellent work done by the Soil Association standards department the current model of inspecting and licensing specific recipes has been described to me by licensees as expensive, time-consuming and inflexible. What’s needed is a sensible and cost-effective way of regulating catering outlets who are not 100% organic but still wish to serve some organic items.

So 2003 has got off to an intriguing start and I look forward to a challenging year full of exciting contradictions. Very organic !