Organic beyond the supermarkets
In her latest column, sector expert Hanni Ruetzler sheds light on where consumers buy organic products outside the supermarket.
There has been an organic farmers' market on Freyung, a square in the heart of Vienna, for 30 years. It is the oldest purely organic market in Europe. Every Friday and Saturday, high-quality certified organic meat and dairy products, fruit, vegetables, wine, beer, juices and much more are offered here. And even though today the majority of organic food is bought in conventional supermarkets and from discounters - often in the form of retailers' own brands - the small market on Freyung (https://biobauernmarkt-freyung.at/) is a living monument to the alternative marketing of organic products.
Elsewhere, too, many consumers love to buy directly from producers, stroll through street and weekly markets, talk to farmers and learn more about the products and production methods. This especially goes for consumers with an affinity for organic food. A trend that I have described under the keyword "meet food" and which organic producers in particular are focusing on via direct marketing. This is because it is the most effective, comprehensive and profound organic image carrier and, for many, an important pillar for successful business on the farm. The farms can thus build up regular customers who are more open to the seasonally changing offers.
Through personal encounters with producers, many people who are not involved in food production identify with organic farming. In addition to farm-gate sales and existing farm stores, there is a strong presence of organic direct marketers at many weekly markets. And in recent years, digitalization has created further opportunities to engage more intensively with customers - including virtually. As small farms in particular often do not want to or cannot afford their own webshop, national and regional organic associations - in Austria, for example, Bio Austria - also offer their members joint platforms for direct marketing via the internet (store.bio-austria.at).
In Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, the concept of the Markschwärmer (https://laruchequiditoui.fr/en), which was developed in France in 2010, has also successfully established itself: a network that brings consumers and regional producers together. Unlike a visit to the market, food must be ordered online at least two days in advance and then picked up at the joint meeting at the Marktschwärmerei. This allows suppliers to plan more precisely, leaving no leftovers and more time for conversations with customers.
There are currently over 900 Marktschwärmereien across Europe, including over 130 in Germany (https://marktschwaermer.de/de). And even if not all of the more than 3,000 producers registered in Germany are certified organic, consumers have the option of selecting only certified organic products by ticking a box in a Schwärmerei's product catalog.
Consumers can build even closer relationships with organic producers by joining one of the numerous food coops in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, in which individuals and households join together and purchase organic products directly from local farms, market gardens, beekeepers, etc. on a self-organized basis.
Another model is the European farmers' network Crowd Farming (https://www.crowdfarming.com), founded by Gabriel and Gonzalo Úrculo in Spain in 2017, where consumers can either adopt a plant (e.g. kiwi), vines, a field, cows, goats, shrubs, trees (e.g. oranges, almonds) etc. or take out a monthly subscription and regularly receive the harvests delivered directly to their homes without any intermediaries. The majority of producers, mainly based in Spain and Italy, are certified organic or in conversion.