Last year, thanks to a doubling of organic food sales in just four years, organic’s share of total food sales in Denmark reached a remarkable 13.3% – an achievement that Organic Denmark hailed as “an extraordinary tipping point”.
So how did Denmark become the leading organic nation in the world, and how can other countries learn from the Danish organic success story?
Denmark, of course, has already travelled a long way on its organic journey – Danish consumers are culturally primed for organic. So, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that a healthy 11% of Danes can be classified as ‘super heavy users’ of organic. The fact that these consumers account for 44% of total organic sales shows how important a group they are.
Everyone buys organic
Organic Denmark breaks down organic consumers into five main subsets. ‘Functionalists’ who make 31% of organic consumers are looking for “quick and easy solutions”. ‘Idealists’ (20%) identify with “clean, sustainable and home-made”, while ‘Convenience seekers’ (19%) “have a low interest in food, and choose the cheapest products”. ‘Food lovers’ (17%) look for “taste, quality and country of origin, and ‘Traditionalists’ like things “simple, Danish and traditional”. The big take-home here, says Bungård, is that “consumers are different – but everyone buys organic”.
Danish consumers’ biggest motivation to buy organic is ‘fewer residues’, followed by ‘higher animal welfare’, ‘better environment/drinking water’, ‘health’, ‘quality’ and ‘fewer additives’. Bungård admits to being surprised that “quality is comparatively low” on the list.
An important part of Denmark’s success with organic has been down to the way key stakeholders work together. Winning over the country’s major retailers has been a major priority for Organic Denmark. The organisation has literally worked its way through all the major supermarkets, persuading them about the organic opportunity. The major supermarkets and grocers in Denmark account for the vast majority of organic food sales (the Coop chain commands a whopping 35% by itself). Organic Denmark has also been able to get the discounters successfully onside – Netto, for example, now accounts for 12.2% of all organics sales.
Knocking on doors
How did Organic Denmark get a discounter like Netto interested in a ‘premium’ (in perception terms, at least) category like organic? “We went along and knocked on their door and said we need to talk about organic”, explains Bungård.
Getting into the discounters is not just good for extending access to organic, it also helps to show that organic can be for anyone. “Organic should absolutely be for everybody, otherwise we can’t create a better planet,” says Bungård. To help achieve that goal, she says that it is important that more organic equivalents of mainstream conventional food products are made available. “To encourage greater take-up of organic, it’s important that we make organic less daunting”.
“To encourage greater take-up of organic, it’s important that we make organic less daunting”
Bungård suggests that retailers start their organic journey by initially offering food staples. “Consumers of organic typically start by buying basic food products like eggs, milk, bread, fruit and vegetables before they move on to other food groups (Organic Denmark has created an ‘organic staircase’ to illustrate this progression).
It will surprise some to learn that Denmark has no 100% organic shops. “In any store the consumer has a choice. They are able to ask themselves, do I want organic or conventional – we think that’s a positive”, says Bungård.
Bungård says Organic Denmark has a policy of not talking about conventional. “We never say anything bad about conventional operators – they operate within the law. We just say that if you eat organic you save yourself from chemicals”.
Giving some advice to organic start-ups, Bungård says “brand should put communications into their products, and explain how products are made, where ingredients come from and why they cost more – higher welfare, no chemicals, for example.”
Bungård says organic forms part of a new ‘international green consumer agenda’, along with climate change, food waste, plastic and vegan/vegetarian. But, she says, despite “a huge green agenda” Organic Denmark always puts “organic in front of climate change, and other issues”.