3 questions for …
Theresa Schleicher, Futurologist, author and expert on (organic) retail
“Organic products and sustainability are going to be the highest, most existential priority”
1. Consumer shopping behaviour has changed especially sharply in the past few years. As an expert on the future of retail, what’s your opinion: How should retail position itself to reach the consumers of tomorrow?
What’s going to be needed most of all in the future is Less. In a survey in my new study of the future1, 2,000 consumers in Germany and Austria said the best thing retail can do for the future by 2030 is to have 20% less: 20% less products, less makers, less outlets and less dealers. We have to get away from oversupply, from surplus, and towards more focus. With 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste and 5.8 million tonnes of textile waste in the EU alone, that should actually be a positive sign. People are getting more aware, which in turn offers retail new opportunities to take action cost-effectively and pare things down.
2. Organic retailers are under the pressure of losing market share to conventional grocery retail. What do you think the status of organic retail is, and what should it change to remain successful?
From the consumer’s viewpoint, organic retailers, discounters, and classic supermarkets are drawing closer and closer together – it’s not enough any more to offer only organic products at a specialised market. In times of inflation especially, consumers wonder what’s the difference between the organic products at organic retailers, the supermarket, and discounters. And if the answer isn’t clear and they’re unsure, they’ll go for the cheapest product. There’s still a need here for educational work, for communicating clearly and transparently. It’s also important for specialty retailers to focus on Net Zero targets, and also to pay attention to new, regenerative practices, especially in agriculture. In other words, agriculture that operates ecologically in production and transport. And another big topic: packaging! Packaging is a major lever for greater sustainability in society. It’s good to buy organic products, but not in an oversized plastic package. That’s something consumers are less and less willing to accept.
3. The community approach – cooperative supermarkets like Super Coop in Berlin and the Food Hub in Munich are under discussion as promising organic retail alternatives to classic organic specialty shops. What prospects of success do you foresee for this differentiation model over the long term?
These are great ways for getting people in cities, especially, closer to products’ production conditions. Transparency is paramount – it makes clear to many people for the first time how much work, how much sweat, love, and craft is needed to get a certain product onto a supermarket shelf and ultimately onto somebody’s plate. And when the margins are revealed, that also helps raise awareness of the real cost of goods. These are niche concepts that are important for education, so as to bring us closer to the things we consume. Because crises and the associated price increases have a massive impact on consumer behaviour. Organic products and sustainability are going to be the highest, most existential priority in the future.