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France: Trends and tendencies in the organic specialist trade

by Kai Kreuzer (comments: 0)

Vegetables on a shelf in France
France's organic turnover rose up to 8.3 billion euros in 2017. © Kai Kreuzer

With an agricultural organic area of 1.7 million hectares and an organic turnover of 8.3 billion euros (2017), France is now one of the heavyweights in the European organic sector and ranks second behind Germany. For years, the French organic movement has been able to enjoy large, often double-digit growth rates, so that the "race to catch up" with Germany can now be declared a success. 

Openings and closings

In the first half of 2018, the number of new organic food shops and supermarkets opened reached an unprecedented level of 136. Over 35,000 m² of sales area, minus store closures, were newly created within six months. While in 2014 this figure amounted to 37 new companies, it rose to 70 (in 2015), 96 (in 2016) and 124 respectively in 2017 (each for the first half of the year). The average sales area of these new stores was 320 m². In the same period of 2018, 46 natural food shops with a sales area of around 7000 m² in total were closed.

New Biocoop supermarket near Cannes
New Biocoop supermarket near Cannes © Kai Kreuzer

However, it is not only smaller shops under 150 m² that are affected by the closures: a good quarter of the shops already had 200 m² or more, but had to bow to the increasing competitive pressure from shops with sales areas between 300 m² and 1000 m². The Biocoop shopping and marketing association is in first place with 37 new points of sale, followed by La Vie Claire with 25. In third place, with 20 stores, are the independents, who are neither part of a chain nor part of a purchasing association. These, such as Biomonde or Les Comptoirs de la Bio, have been very popular in recent years.

The BioC'bon store chain is now at the back with only five openings. Apparently, the strong growth that has led to a total of 130 organic specialty stores in France, 18 in Italy and four each in Belgium and Switzerland seems to have come to an end, at least temporarily. Following the enormous growth leaps of recent years, a consolidation phase is now likely to be the order of the day. 


© Kai Kreuzer

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Zero waste: Manufacturers and specialist dealers are increasingly organising themselves

The prevention of packaging waste also concerns consumers and retailers in France. The issue is even exacerbated by the fact that there is no multi-way system for glass. Beverages are generally bottled in plastic or non-returnable glass. No wonder that Zéro Déchèt shops are on the advance and that there is now even a small trade fair for unpacked products. The first Salon du Vrac which took place in Paris in March 2018, the next one is scheduled to open its doors on 28 April 2019. The main question here is how manufacturers can be advised on how to present their loose goods well and how to sell them to independent retailers or chain stores.

3J Développement, for example, provides advice on such questions: "We supply 800 shops in France and offer them smaller units with 5-l refill containers or also large containers for shops with higher sales of self-filling goods," reports Stéphane Saboureau. The manufacturer offers liquid filling systems for juice, wine, vinegar, oil as well as liquid detergents and cleaners.   


© Fotolia/reichdernatur

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Development of guidelines for zero waste shops

What has been missing so far, however, is the targeted further training of the shop owners. "There is currently no training for loose goods and there is also a lack of clear standards," complains Cécilia Renesson, who works for the industry association Network Unpackaged (Réseau Vrac). "The topics of hygiene and traceability are of particular interest, which is why we have already developed guidelines for this," the expert adds. To this end, we regularly work together with a lawyer and a hygiene expert. As a result, there have already been inspection visits to around 180 shops affiliated with the association. Including various manufacturers and other interested parties, the industry association already has 500 members. 

A man and a standing in front of a product shelf in a zero waste shop.
Large product range for self filling at Boomerang © Kai Kreuzer

Striving for cycles in the zero waste business

One of the member shops of Réseau Vrac is located in Mouans-Sartoux north of Cannes and is called Boomerang. "Our customers are delighted that they have the opportunity here to become active by bottling and weighing themselves," explains Thomas Franchi. Together with his partner Laura Giacco, he founded the shop in 2015 at a central location in the town. At that time, Franchi recalls, there were only a dozen zero waste shops throughout France. In their 65 m² shop, they offer around 800 articles, which they purchase directly from around 100 suppliers. In many cases, such as honey, they try to return the empty containers to the manufacturer so that a cycle can be set up. Boomerang's range of bulk goods extends from basic foodstuffs such as noodles, rice and cereals to biscuits, chocolate, dried fruit and jam to wine and olive oil. Of course, detergents, cleaning agents and shampoo are also available in units for self-bottling.

Two people in front of a shop, one sitting on a cargobike.
The owners of Boomerang supply some of their customers with a cargo bike. © Kai Kreuzer

Conventional retail activities threaten the specialized trade

In order to achieve the self-imposed target of 5 billion euros in organic sales by 2022, the conventional supermarket chain Carrefour is making every effort. The organic private label is being expanded and organic supermarkets will continue to be taken over, as the example of So.Bio shows. The regional organic chain was founded in 2005 by Nathalie and Jean-Marc Lachat and now operates nine markets in the southwest of France. The last store opened in mid-September 2018 in Pamiers, south of Toulouse. On So.Bio's website, however, no indication about the take-over by the big food retailer can be found.

Other players in the food retail sector are also making increased efforts to enter the organic market, such as Intermarché. Participation in the purchasing and marketing association Comptoir de la Bio - currently active throughout France with 150 stores - is intended to offer a further 100 conventional supermarket operators a perspective in the organic specialist trade sector. Leclerc, the supermarket giant, is also pressing ahead rapidly with its efforts to increase the amount of organic with its comprehensive private label Bio Village.

Please also read: IFOAM EU: Organic meets conventional



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