Creating momentum: the year ahead for the OTB

Opening the Organic Trade Board (OTB) AGM & Member Briefing in March with a financial overview, Roger Kerr, financial director, told attendees that despite the OTB being fully funded by members since 2020, and in spite of challenging economic conditions, the organization is in ‘robust’ financial health.

“I don’t need to tell you we are in very difficult times. We’ve had Brexit and COVID and now we’ve got Ukraine,” he said, adding that the OTB still remains in ‘a really solid position’. “Membership fees haven’t increased since 2017 and are now up for review. We are all facing very uncertain times … but we are here to support you. We would like to thank everybody for all their efforts and for renewing their memberships.”

In 2021 the OTB saw 95.5% of existing members renew their pledges (versus 90% in 2020). For 2022 the OTB is moving into active ‘membership acquisition’. With a full programme of activity planned for the year – including a redesigned B2B website, partnerships, new benefits and regular networking events – Cristina Dimetto, OTB general manager, hopes that the more content which is shared among members, ‘the more we can grow together’.

The way the OTB works with Kantar is changing to increase member benefits. “From this year we are going to have ‘deep dives’,” revealed Dimetto. Two categories at a time will be chosen – beginning with protein and home baking – which will provide detailed insights into specific areas of organic consumption and consumer behaviour.

The 2022 events line-up includes: Alara, London; Garden Organic, Coventry; RB Organic, Norfolk; Sainsbury’s, London; and Yeo Valley, Blagdon, during which content for Organic September will be created. Places for each will be limited and the OTB plans to ask for a monetary contribution to partially cover costs.

Online events will remain – planned sessions include Find Your Tribe with Atlante, Plastic Packaging Tax with the European Recycling Platform and two dedicated organic textiles forums with GOTS. The OTB is liaising with The Carbon Trust about talks on Measuring Carbon Footprint & Analysis.

Key collaborations will continue; this year the Nourish Awards will be blind judged by a panel including the OTB in its capacity as award partner, while a new GOTS and OTB Members Task Force will see the partnership between the two organizations strengthened. Christopher Stopes, UK representative from GOTS, commented:

“We’re really pleased to be in partnership with the OTB – which I believe is the best vehicle … GOTS is really proud. I think the marketing task force … is going to be really important.”

If we’re too passive and gentle and nice we won’t get the message out there. I absolutely think we can be noisy and shout above our weight

The Food & Drink Federation (FDF) is also getting involved, with the OTB becoming a Small Trade Association Member of the FDF and joining two key committees. Carne, who will act as vice chair of the FDF Organic Group, said the ‘essence of the partnership … is to align the industry – to have more conversations going across the sector’ and ‘create momentum’ through this ‘significantly bigger organization’. Dimetto confirmed OTB members will have access to FDF groups through the affiliate membership and will be able to ‘feed into’ the FDF through herself and Carne. “I see the FDF as complementary to us. [It] can give us tools and means to work on the other side. You will have access to different kinds of expertise.”

OTB marketing director Harriet O’Regan gave thanks to Clare McDermott, ex-Soil Association, for the ‘huge amount’ she did to drive organic forward during her time with the certifier. “I loved working with her. I’m really, really sad to see her go so I just wanted to say on record, thank you.” Thanks were also given to the OTB’s ‘angel donors’ (Organic Farm Foods, Ecotone, Arla, G’s Fresh, Natracare and Doves farm) for their ‘super support’; with a view to formalizing such partnerships, the OTB will be considering how angel donors can ‘play an extra role in the campaign’ going forward.

O’Regan spoke of the booming organic market in Denmark and France, drawing comparisons with Sweden where the plant-based movement has ‘stolen the limelight’, causing organic to ‘fall away’ from consumers. To avoid the same happening in the UK, O’Regan said we must push organic to become the norm, so that Organic September becomes an ‘expected moment in the calendar’, in the way Dry January and Veganuary have – in fact, she positioned, plant-based momentum ‘can be positive for this sector’. “It’s in our hands. I really would ask for your involvement and engagement with what we’re about to take on,” she told the room, saying we must get organic ‘in the language’ of wider society and that ‘any retailer that doesn’t think about organic is missing a trick’.

Organic September 2022 is in development, with several strategies being considered: ‘getting organic into your feed’ via a ‘social first campaign’; empowering eco-seekers to ‘turn that passive choice in an active one’; simplifying the message – communicating how organic means ‘doing your bit to save nature’; and finally shock tactics to tug at heart strings, ‘jolt the everyday shopping behaviour of consumers’ and connect the psychology of the natural world back to organic. “If we’re too passive and gentle and nice we won’t get the message out there. I absolutely think we can be noisy and shout above our weight. If you love these ideas, please come and work with us on them. If you hate them, please come and work with us on them,” O’Regan finished.