Organic Farmers Are The Driving Force Behind The Specialist Trade
by Redaktion (comments: 0)
Although the majority of the people buying organic products in Denmark live in Copenhagen, it is at the moment in the smaller towns that the specialist organic trade is continuing to develop. In the capital, however, shop rents are higher and the conventional supermarkets are better stocked with organic products than in other parts of the country. Thus opening a new shop or even expanding a business would involve a considerably higher financial risk in the capital. For this reason, most whole food shops in Copenhagen are fairly small, and they are not shops where you are likely to do your whole week's shopping. In the case of non-perishable food, the stock is much better than in the conventional stores, but the availability of fruit and vegetables and other fresh foods often leaves much to be desired.
Picture: Urtehuset in Kopenhagen (Pictures can be enlarged by click)
On the other hand, natural remedies, food supplements and natural cosmetics play an important part. In some shops such as Urtehuset in the Østerbro district you find a big selection ranging from natural remedies to Bach flower extracts.
The second largest city in Denmark, Aarhus, with 270,000 inhabitants, many students and a traditionally powerful food industry, enjoys the reputation of being the organic capital of Denmark. Situated in a busy little street in the city centre there is, for example, the shop Ren Kost (picture), which expanded its floor space last year to about 150 m². Here too a lot of space is devoted to cosmetics and natural remedies, but the stock of food and frozen products is just as varied.
Just over a year ago, the first organic supermarket in Denmark (picture), Gardbutikken (Farm Shop), opened a few kilometres away in Hafenstrasse, a dismal thoroughfare full of traffic. It was founded by nine farmers who wanted to bring their produce into town, and the 270 m² shop sells a wide range of organic food. In this shop, with its rustic interior, there is a clear emphasis on regional and local produce. The large meat counter opposite the entrance immediately catches the eye. Dairy products are kept in a closed refrigerated section and fruit and vegetables also have a separate room. One corner is devoted to wine. In Holstebro and Viborg, there are two more branches belonging to the group revolving round Jakob Dan Nielsen.
In other places, too, it is now the farmers (picture) themselves who are driving the organic trade forwards. This year, twelve farmers in Kolding began running the shop Hokeren, that at the outset stocked 1,500 items but intends to double its range. Other shops with a similar approach can be found in Gerning and Esbjerg.
The vegetable farmer Thomas Harttung took a different route: inspired by an eco-conference in 1996 he joined forces with the chef Soren Ejlersen to sell vegetables and corresponding recipes on the farm. Three years later, this became the enterprise Aarstiderne that is the biggest retailer of organic goods outside the conventional retail food trade in Denmark. Aarstiderne calls itself an internet-based supermarket and its strategy is founded on its organic box scheme. In addition to the typical fruit and vegetable boxes, there are boxes of fish, meat, cheese, bread and wine plus various everyday items like pasta and coffee. Any order can be changed up to two days before delivery and, if a customer cannot find what he wants in the 30 different boxes, he can choose from about 800 products via the internet. Six years after it was founded, Aarstiderne makes regular deliveries to 35 000 households, most of which are in the Copenhagen area. 'We have the keys to every block of flats in the capital,' says Anette Hartvig Larsen (picture) with a laugh.
The company also comprises two rustic organic shops (picture), one of which has a restaurant on Harttung's farm in Barritskov in the west of the country. The other is on the Krogerup farm in Humlebaek in the vicinity of the famous Louisiana Museum of Art. Catering for functions and cooking courses are also available. 'The shops are our showrooms. We are not here to earn money but to have contact with our customers. The same principle applies to the mobile kitchens at festivals. This is a kind of marketing that works well and is good fun, too,' says Larsen. After the Dutch Tridos Bank became a partner in 2001, the firm grew rapidly for a few years. Last year, with its 130 employees, it achieved a turnover of 19 million Euros. The box scheme accounted for 85 %.
Today the enterprise has been consolidated, and Larsen says that they are now concentrating on quality and creativity rather than on quick growth. So they are considering, for example, whether they could produce something on their own fields that is rarely available in the shops. Old stables (picture) have just been renovated in Krogerup to create more space for events held mainly by firms. It was opened in September, and in the first month there were 150 bookings. Companies are important customers: some place a regular order for a box of fruit for the office; others find unusual Christmas presents, such as a nicely packaged box of tea or the Aarstiderne cook book.
The fact that its products are organic hardly features in the way Aarstiderne presents itself. 'Quality comes before organic because for many quality-conscious customers organic is taken for granted,' says Larsen. '50 % of our customers buy organic because it is easy - because they don't want to search through boring supermarkets for good products,' she believes. Approximately two-thirds of goods sold come from Denmark; one tenth of these goods comes from the company's own farms. About 20 basic products are sold in simple white paper bags (picture) under its own brand Diverse Raavarer. On its homepage the company lists its most important suppliers. You can also read the business statistics there, too, even though the company is not obliged to publish them. Members of the management have also been writing a blog for the last year. For Larsen, openness and transparency make you less vulnerable. Since the spring of this year Aarstiderne has been delivering to households in the south of Sweden around Malmo and Lund. At the beginning of October, they started a test run in Stockholm.