It’s independents who are growing organic sales – let’s support them!

Independent retailers are organic’s true believers and best promoters. Let’s use the powerful ‘Organic. Naturally different.’ campaign to support them, says Charles Redfern

An old acquaintance of mine, Jean Verdier, is president of Synabio (the Organic Trade Board equivalent in France). He recently sent me a link to an interview he gave on French TV.

Jean said it is great to see organic products in as many retail outlets as possible. He then went on to plead special privileges for the independent organic sector for two reasons.

Firstly, the independent organic sector is authentic – it supports and promotes organic sales because it believes in the organic vision, and understands the bigger picture.

Secondly, most organic brands are small and medium size (SME) businesses, which find it hard to negotiate with huge corporates. Independent retails outlets are a much better fit for SME brands

France like many European countries has an effective independent sector with hundreds of great organic stores. Even though France’s population and per capita GNP is roughly similar to ours, its organic market is double ours, and continues to grow, despite the recession.

French supermarket sales are increasingly dominant and causing (let’s call a spade a spade) unfair competition. But even in supermarkets, organic is sold less as a lifestyle option, and more as a vote for progress. Carrefour’s organic own label is called ‘Agir Bio’. Agir means to act, to make a stand

Back in the UK, the Organic Trade Board reports excellent results for its current advertising campaign, Organic. Naturally Different. Recent results shows 35,000 Likes on Facebook, while 80% surveyed said, “The outdoor ads would be VERY likely to encourage them to buy more organic”. Unfortunately the increased sales figures were all from Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

This has opened an old wound for me. The advertising campaign is heavily slanted in my mind to building up sales in the multiples – its decision-making structure, its choice of ad agency and advertising outlets.

Marketing people often tell me in fatherly tones that no one can ignore the 30% of organic sales that Tesco’s represent. Fine, OK. But none of these people has ever told me that we cannot ignore the 30% of sales that the independent retail sector represents.

The “indies” are organic pioneers – its true believers, promoters and supporters. I would like to see 30% of the Organic Trade Board’s next campaign totally and exclusively ring-fenced for the independent sector, not for adverts in Hello!, let alone the in-house media of supermarkets.

That 30% would go to support consumer sales of SME retailers and SME brands. And guess what – everybody would benefit.  France and other European organic markets work because they have the real-food values of the independents at their core.

Independents brands and retailers understand in-depth the benefits of organic, and broadcast its messages. That’s one of the reasons why France and other European organic markets are growing.

Having people who actually believe in what they are saying and selling is a cornerstone of growth – not a job that can be left to Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s.

Charles Redfern is the founder of the ethical canned fish company, Fish4Ever, the sister company of Organico, both based in Reading. Fish4Ever’s motto is Land, Sea and People. Its land ingredients are 100% organic – supporting traditional fishing communities is as important as saving the fish. This blog first appeared on the Soil Association website.