Organic? It makes sense!

October 2010

Back to nature – that’s what the Germans want occasionally when it comes to their daily bread. In view of the regularly recurring food-related scandals, the popularity of organic food is increasing, albeit at a low level. The trend from previous years continued in the first half of 2010 and the proportion of the food expenditure accounted for by organic products has stabilized overall. And Germans do not just opt for organically cultivated fruit and vegetables – there is also a clear desire for cosmetics manufactured from organic products.

Cancer-inducing dyes in spices, slaughterhouse waste disguised as roast beef and contaminants in olive oil – these are just three examples of food-related scandals in recent years. Anyone surfing through the vast number of internet sites devoted to revolting food might be left wondering why Germans do not buy organic food far more frequently. In the first half of the year, the proportion spent on organic food remained stable at around 3%. Compared with previous years, the increase has slowed somewhat, but the proportion of organic food is still twice as much as it was in 2004. This is evident from longstanding studies on the purchase of organic products by GfK Panel Services.

The success of environmentally aware consumption is not as immediately apparent in the balance sheets of organic food shops, since although people are filling their shopping baskets more, the tills are not ringing much more loudly. This is because although unit sales of organic food rose by 4% in the first four months of the year, the value of the goods purchased only rose by 0.2%. This means that prices for organic food are falling, because organic food is longer only available from selected specialist retailers, among other reasons. Regardless of whether it’s Aldi, Lidl or Norma – not only large numbers of food retailers but also discount stores and drugstores have recognized Germans' desire for balanced and healthy food and included organic food in their ranges. As a result, they are competing with traditional providers of organic food.

Consumers who would like to bite into an untreated apple, enjoy potatoes that have not been grown with pesticides or offer biscuits without additives with their coffee frequently make their way to the nearest food store. Almost two-thirds of products cultivated organically are purchased from food retailers and drugstores today – and the trend is upwards. But even organic food stores, the birthplace of the organic movement, have seen their sales increase. Compared with the first four months of 2009, the proportion attributable to organic food shops increased further to around 20%. Health food stores, artisan food stores or providers at weekly markets have done less well, in that they have lost customers in the same period.

Muesli: right at the top of the organic menu

Who invented it? The answer is clear as far as muesli is concerned: the Swiss, or to be more precise, the doctor and reforming nutritionist Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner, made the mixture of cereals and apple socially acceptable at the beginning of the last century. In the 1960s, the hippie movement discovered muesli as a basic component of a holistic diet and contributed to its dissemination far beyond the borders of Switzerland. In the meantime, every possible variation of organic food has been created but muesli has remained at the top of the menu to date – even if it is now more fashionable in Germany to call it “cereals”. It accounts for the largest proportion of organic foods in food retailers, at around 10%, followed by spreads and fruit, vegetables and potatoes, each accounting for around 7%. The proportion of the organic food sector attributable to bakery and dairy products is somewhat smaller. Demand for organic versions of drinks is also rather limited: just under 2% of alcohol-free drinks are organic, although the percentages of organic beer and wine are somewhat higher. Sausages, meat, fish and poultry bring up the rear, each accounting for less than 2% of their respective segments.

Organic cosmetics: looking good naturally

Today, there are many options for those not satisfied with just eating organically: organic clothing, sustainable travel and environmentally friendly living are all available. And of course, it is a long time since “organic” was a term for unadorned eco-warriors. The proportion of organic cosmetics in the total market has increased from around 3% to 4% in the last four years – admittedly growth at a relatively low level – as is the case for organic food.

Germans like to use natural products on their faces and bodies, in particular: the proportion of organic products among the relevant care products is highest, at 9% and 8% respectively. By contrast, shower and bath products labeled “organic” and natural soap and deodorants are less popular. At present, these products account for some 3% of the total market, followed by sunscreen products, make-up and other decorative cosmetics, as well as hair care. The fact that women probably use natural cosmetics more is also evident from the fact that the proportion of organic products among men’s typical personal hygiene products – shaving foam and aftershave – ranks last at less than 2%.

More buyers, less spending

Certainly, more and more people are using organic products to help them look good, but this trend is scarcely perceptible in manufacturers’ cash tills. While the purchase rate increased from around 14% to over 20% between 2006 and 2010, spending in the organic cosmetics segment scarcely kept pace. The reason is that more and more retailers are offering less expensive own brands, which are around a third cheaper, alongside expensive, branded natural cosmetics. As a result, while the average price for branded cosmetics with an organic label stands at just under EUR 7, consumers pay barely EUR 2 for the own brands.

It is likely to be a while before organic products are first choice in the bath and feature right at the top of the menu but consumers are becoming slowly and steadily more aware of them. A glance at the past can also give all those betting on sustainable products confidence. While the trend towards organic is still fragile, ultimately it has withstood the recent economic crisis in remarkably good shape.

Data source: GfK Panel Services (Consumer Scan, June 2010)
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