Organic Articles: On Being Slightly Pregnant

The Organic Consultancy

On Being Slightly Pregnant

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the January 2004 edition of Organic Business.

The Marketing Week organic conference had a good theme, strong speakers and thoughtful, lively debates. So where was everybody? Certainly a price ticket of over 700 was off-putting but the insights offered were strong and the networking opportunities excellent.

Stan Burns from Tesco and Kevin Hawkins from Safeway presented two disparate views of how multiples now see the organic category – Tesco focussing on the opportunities that come from consumer segmentation whilst Safeway emphasised the importance of organic brands and in-store merchandising. Research from both multiples emphasised that pricing was a significant barrier to developing the market (“Don’t rely on research” Mark Palmer, Green & Black’s).

OK, you can’t be slightly pregnant but it appears that currently the vast majority of consumers are slightly organic. Several speakers made the point that encouraging these consumers to become more organic is going to require considerable ingenuity. Brand holders such as Go Organic, Green & Black’s and Rachels Dairy concentrated on promoting taste and health as a way of achieving this. Renee Elliot demonstrated that a dedicated organic retailer can effectively sell the organic proposition by explicitly criticising non-organic products. Easy to do if you’re Planet Organic, more difficult if you’re Unilever.

One way forward could be to start building alliances with other production systems. Some are obvious – Fairtrade, Farmers Markets – some less so. In my experience artisan cheese makers and micro-brewers are interested in provenance, naturalness, sourcing and sustainability, whether they are organic or not. If we add in Free From / Special Diet, Slow Food, Local, Natural Products, Local, Free Range / Cruelty Free and Fine Foods then the organic sector becomes one strand of a much broader movement, what Fresh & Wild have started calling Real Food.

Embracing our fellow travellers in this way means accepting that organics may not be the answer to everything. Rather than dividing the food chain strictly into organic and non-organic, a more sophisticated worldview would be that of a continuum. If organically-certified locally produced, Fairtrade products occupy one pole, the other would be some ghastly combination of hydrogenated fat, GM corn, refined sugar and white flour, over-packaged and overpromoted. But there is a lot of middle-ground for the organic community to go for.