Organic, a business model?

With double-digit growth that makes you dream in these times of economic difficulties, organic is on the rise. But its economic model is in tension, between small sales and production structures and industrialization.

20% growth: a figure worthy of Soviet propaganda under Stalin, and yet: it’s organic in the first half of 2016 in France. A market revealed at 6.9 billion euros in 2016 according to the Agence bio. But by gaining speed, is organic losing its values? Behind the radiant future promised by these spectacular figures, is there not the threat of the assured decline of an alternative and sustainable economic and social model?

In any case, this is the concern aroused by Adnan Jaoui, Claude Gruffat, Didier Perréol and Jean Verdier, respectively presidents of Biodéal, Biocoop, Ekibio and Synabio. With the help of around 30 sustainable food experts, they wrote an e-book called Organic and sustainable food: current situation and perspectives(3).

An economic model in tension

No doubt they are right to worry: for several years now, smelling the good vein, industrialists have not been asked to surfer on the green wave of bio. In the cities, for example, signs with vitamin colors bloom like roses in the spring: those of small surfaces which only offer products stamped organic.

Among the retail brands that have taken the plunge, Carrefour with its Carrefour bio line opened in 2013, Auchan and its Coeur de Nature stores, Casino, which is opening more Naturalia stores (more than 140 in 2016, compared to 64 in 2011 (2)), Intermarché proclaims that “it’s organic every day”, Leclercq is developing its Bio village brand… The list is long.

Besides these small specialty stores, when it comes to organic, supermarkets have the biggest slice of the pie: the majority of product sales are made in supermarkets and hypermarkets (nearly 45% of organic products in 2015). A major challenge for large groups, and a good vein for communication: last October, the new president of Monoprix Régis Schultz announced the replacement of the classic baguette with an organic baguette, without a price increase.

Source: BIO Agency / ANDI

The development of organic in supermarkets: a good sign?

The organic specialty stores are afraid of having the rug pulled out from under them by large and medium-sized stores. Especially since some are swallowed raw by the tenors of the food industry. Monoprix to buy Naturaliawhile Carrefour acquired Greenweezthe French leader in organic e-commerce.

But should the growth of organic products in supermarkets be considered a danger? For Étienne Paulin, of the Coop du Val Fleury, this is rather a good sign: ” The development in mass distribution is important because the more we increase the offer of products in the different distribution vectors, automatically this will bring more consumers. »


Noni fruit © Katerina Pokrovsky Shutterstock

For players in the sector, if supermarkets want to take a fair share in the progress of organic, they must play fair. ” Even today, mass distribution communicates on cheap organic, it is urgent that brands that adhere to the spirit of organic communicate on the right price. (…) Organic will only retain its values ​​by allowing another form of economy “, notes Alain Delangle, of Bio-coherence. System U seems to have learned the lesson: the traders’ cooperative has created a range of organic dairy products in partnership with the collector Biolait and the processor LSDH, based on a renewable three-year partnership with prior negotiation of the desired volumes of milk and remuneration of the partners “at the right price”.

Organic farming cannot be reduced to a mode of production and consumption »

For the authors ofOrganic and sustainable food: current situation and perspectivesthem organic growth figures hide a major issue. According to Franck Bardet, head of the animal sector at Biocoop: “ When people talk about organic, they are talking about organic, whereas organic is a sector made up of actors who take into account a vision, a social and economic activity, or even a model of society “. The authors of the e-book summarize: organic farming cannot be reduced to a mode of production and consumption “.


Bio must take into account the different actors © Syda Productions Shutterstock

For Claude Gruffat, president of Biocoop, consuming organic is not enough, we still have to become “consum’actors”: ” When I shop at Biocoop, in an AMAP (Association for the maintenance of peasant agriculture), at the farmer’s market, I vote for a certain model of society that is built with a certain economic model, that of the economy of needs, that of the Social and Solidarity Economy. When I make my purchases in standardized mass distribution, I vote for another economic model, another model of society: that of predation, of the concentration of added value on a few people, of the impoverishment of the greatest number, that of the financialisation of the economy. »

Organic: a certain future

Although large and medium-sized supermarkets still monopolize most of the organic market, the trend could well be reversed in the future. Indeed, it is direct sales and sales in specialized organic stores that are growing the fastest (respectively +20% and +17% in 2015 compared to 2014).

The organic

Direct selling has more and more followers

But the authors of the e-book point to a risk for the future: a two-speed organic sector, ” on the way to golden mediocrity », with on the one hand, short circuits of local and seasonal products which fairly remunerate the producers; and on the other, an impressive range of imported organic products, produced at low cost in the four parts of the world by poor workers, and whose prices fluctuate at the rate of world prices.

Do you hope for more political creativity for, among other things, better food on a daily basis? Pre-order it A short manual of political creativity – How to unleash collective audacity, to be published on February 23. Support its distribution by contributing to the crowdfunding of the book!

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