“Come on, let’s big-up real brands” – organic pioneer

With news that supermarket own-label organic sales are in decline, one  prominent figure in the natural products sector is calling on the trade to “big-up the real brands”.

In March the Soil Association’s Organic Market Report showed that sales of supermarket own-label organics were down 9.5% in 2011, while organic sales overall fell for the third year running in the supermarket channel – the result of aggressive de-listing of organic ranges by the big retailers.

Responding to the news, Charles Redfern – founder of the Organico and Fish4Ever brands – told Natural Products: “I’ve been warning about this for absolutely years. Organic is an “integrity” story, about the whole brand provenance and it needs investment in selling that story. Too many people rubber-stamped the rush to create supermarket own labels some years back as a positive development – but this was at the direct cost of de-listing and effectively blocking real organic brands. We are now seeing the consequences.

“In the UK we have only a handful of organic brands representing true organic foods well; and often these have been taken over by multi-nationals leading to the same tepid engagement in the values of organic.”

Redfern predicts that the same loss of consumer confidence will set in with the fair trade sector as multinational brands and supermarket own-label starts to dominate the landscape and flaunt their “ethical halos”.

The message for everyone in organic should be clear, he says – big-up real brands. “Clearly the multiples failing is good news for many indies but look what’s happening in our own backyard. Some indies are doing exactly the same, stripping back down to Aldi-style brands, driven entirely by low prices. Too many products are now just too cheap in the indie sector, it’s a sector that risks being “Ratnerised”. I completely believe in the need for affordability but the other side of consumer affordability is producer impoverishment – something gives somewhere along the line, and you get cheapening and a loss of values. A delicate balance needs to be struck to arrive at fair pricing. The UK too often goes down the £shop route – the price of everything, the value of nothing…”