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HOW TO BECOME THE LEADING ORGANIC NATION IN THE WORLD (BY THE COUNTRY THAT IS)

Natural Products – Jun 14, 2019 – Jim Manson

Last year, thanks to a doubling of organic food sales in just four years, organic’s share of total food sales in Denmark reached a remarkable 13.3% – an achievement that Organic Denmark hailed as “an extraordinary tipping point”.

So how did Denmark become the leading organic nation in the world, and how can other countries learn from the Danish organic success story?

That was the question Organic Denmark’s international market director, Pernille Bungård, set herself for a special presentation at last week’s Organic Food Iberia event in Madrid.

Denmark, of course, has already travelled a long way on its organic journey – Danish consumers are culturally primed for organic. So, perhaps it shouldn’t  come as a surprise to hear that a healthy 11% of Danes can be classified as ‘super heavy users’ of organic. The fact that these consumers account for 44% of total organic sales shows how important a group they are.

Everyone buys organic
Organic Denmark breaks down organic consumers into five main subsets. ‘Functionalists’ who make 31% of organic consumers are looking for “quick and easy solutions”. ‘Idealists’ (20%) identify with “clean, sustainable and home-made”, while ‘Convenience seekers’ (19%) “have a low interest in food, and choose the cheapest products”. ‘Food lovers’ (17%) look for “taste, quality and country of origin, and ‘Traditionalists’ like things “simple, Danish and traditional”. The big take-home here, says Bungård, is that “consumers are different – but everyone buys organic”.

Danish consumers’ biggest motivation to buy organic is ‘fewer residues’, followed by ‘higher animal welfare’, ‘better environment/drinking water’, ‘health’, ‘quality’ and ‘fewer additives’. Bungård admits to being surprised that “quality is comparatively low” on the list.

An important part of Denmark’s success with organic has been down to the way key stakeholders work together. Winning over the country’s major retailers has been a major priority for Organic Denmark. The organisation has literally worked its way through all the major supermarkets, persuading them about the organic opportunity. The major supermarkets and grocers in Denmark account for the vast majority of organic food sales (the Coop chain commands a whopping 35% by itself). Organic Denmark has also been able to get the discounters successfully onside – Netto, for example, now accounts for 12.2% of all organics sales.

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Organic Agriculture Is Going Mainstream, But Not the Way You Think It Is

Organic going mainstream

“Big Organics” is often derided by advocates of sustainable agriculture. The American food authors Michael Pollan and Julie Guthman, for example, argue that as organic agriculture has scaled up and gone mainstream it has lost its commitment to building an alternative system for providing food, instead “replicating what it set out to oppose.”

New research, however, suggests that the relationship between organic and conventional farming is more complex. The flow of influence is starting to reverse course.

Even with the upscaling, the market position of organic agriculture remains limited.

In Canada, organic sales grow by nearly 10 percent per year, and the total value of the organic market is around $5.4 billion. Yet the reality is that the industry is still dwarfed by conventional agriculture.

There are more than 4,000 certified organic farms in Canada, totalling 2.43 million acres. But this accounts for only 1.5 percent of the country’s total agricultural land.

Also, aside from the two organic heavyweights—coffee (imported) and mixed greens (mostly imported)—the market share of organic groceries is pretty small, at around three percent.

Yet the influence of organics is felt well beyond its own limited market.

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