Jim Manson

It’s Christmas – enjoy the gift of supermarket disinterest!

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The astonishing growth of the organic markets in Scandinavia (up 40% in Sweden and 30% in Norway in 2014) and organic’s share of the total food and drink market (8% in Denmark) are now very familiar. We frequently use Scandinavia as an illustration of how things could be here in the UK (to the point where we might now be guilty of beating ourselves up with repeated stories of Nordic organic prowess!).

But have we got the story completely right? Part of the narrative of the Scandinavian organic success story is that it is underpinned by strong institutional support and pro-organic government policy. But leading organic industry figures from the region taking part in a special discussion on the subject at last month’s Nordic Organic Food Fair say all that is changing. There are few political targets and no current organic action plans. As Johan Cejie from the Swedish organic body KRAV put it, “the growth is happening in spite of the political life”. This puts quite a different complexion on things. As Lee Holdstock says in his Talking Organic column in this month’s NPN, the great wave of support for organic in Sweden (and elsewhere in Scandinavia) is “being fuelled by people, not policy”.

But it’s not just organic sisters and brothers doing it for themselves (although specialist organic brands, retailers and organizations like KRAV and Organic Denmark are all working hard to keep the growth momentum going). Mainstream retailers too, like Coop and ICA in Sweden, are playing a key part by setting their own really ambitious targets – and achieving up to 50% growth in organic sales as a direct result. Higher levels of market cooperation, it seems, could be the real reason for the difference in performance by the Scandinavian and UK organic markets. None of the big British supermarkets currently shows any sign of committing to organic in the way that, for example, the Danish discounter Netto has by dramatically increasing availability, implementing mainstream-style organic marketing campaigns and featuring large dedicated organic sections in store (which it is doing “for business reasons”).

But the supermarkets’ loss is proving to be the independents’ gain, as indies continue to increase their share of the market. So, with Christmas and the season of goodwill upon us why not make the most of the gift of supermarket disinterest?

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