Fausto Jori is the Chief Executive Officer of EcorNaturaSì, the leading organic food retail chain in Italy. Set up in Verona in 1992, the company has 350 points of sale distributed all over Italy. In 2009, the merger of Ecor (the largest wholesale distributor in the organic and biodynamic sector) and NaturaSì led to the creation of EcorNaturaSì, which now controls the chain of production, distribution and marketing in Italy through its network of specialised shops.
What can you tell us about the current situation in Italy?
It’s a tough situation, pretty similar to the situation in Germany, France, and Spain. The organic market is declining by around 10% compared to last year. We believe that is not related to the organic market itself but to cost of living pressures. Consumers are in a very difficult situation because there is no clear future for anybody. Energy costs, raw materials… Everything makes it very difficult to predict even the next few months. People are scared and trying to save money.
Beyond the short-term challenges, are you hopeful about longterm prospects?
We are sure that the organic movement will not have problems in the future, because this is a road everybody has to follow. We are not perfect and we have to improve a lot, but we believe that we, as a pioneer, have to go in this direction. Obviously, the next 6-12 months will be difficult for liquidity reasons, for market reasons, for supply chain reasons, so we will have to try to hold firm as much as possible. And probably we will have to make some compromises, tactical compromises, but with a clear goal in mind. I believe that the organic movement in Europe has to add a new concept: efficiency.
«We have to combine ideals with the efficiency»
What is key in order to achieve this efficiency?
Increasing efficiency in agriculture is a major challenge; it’s not going to be easy. You can increase yields, but you have to invest in research and in processes. This is something that has not been a strength historically in the organic movement. It was more focused on the relation to people, to the idea. Today we understand that we have to combine ideals with efficiency.
You have a US background. Is NaturaSì looking to launch in the US?
Eventually, with raw materials. Our goal is to protect the agriculture ecosystem we founded in the last 40 years. We have farmers and 10,000 hectares of organic or biodynamic crops. We believe that provides benefits for everybody. Exporting raw materials internationally could bring benefits to both consumers, and the farmers and growers who have invested time and energy to produce high quality products by working with nature.
What do you feel when thinking about mature EU organic markets, like Switzerland, France, Germany or Denmark?
Every market has its own features. The Swiss market is very well developed, but there are some production challenges. So, being able to form a strong relationship with farmers is an important objective for the Swiss market. In France, the cooperative Biocoop is an impressive performer and an interesting model in Europe, due to its strong connection and engagement with farmers. While the German organic market is a mature one, it is suffering a lot right now. In my opinion, getting through this difficult period will require a clear vision of the future, and adhering to the ideals of the organic movement: healthy agriculture, healthy food and healthy economy. If we keep focused on the road ahead and our organic goals, then the world will travel with us.
«The retailer has a role that goes far beyond just being a commercial component of the value chain»
What is your sense of the Spanish organic market?
My understanding is that while there are a lot of strong organic farmers and producers, there is not such strong connection between retail and agriculture in the Spanish market. My sense is that there should be more focus on connecting up farming and retail. Building a strong relationship between these groups should be an important priority.
The dream of a farmer is to plan the future. It takes one year to get bread: you have to have seeds, put them in the soil, manage the soil, and after one year, you get the bread or the pasta. If the consumer is able to understand this long process, it is much easier to help farming. And that also translates into business revenue.
The retailer has a role that goes far beyond just being a commercial component of the value chain. The retailer has a key role in food and farming culture, and in educating consumers about the role and function of farming and the environment. It’s not just about selling products.
Can NaturaSì actively play a role in the Spanish organic market?
Our goal is to be a pioneer, having a clear idea of the future and going in that direction. It’s not easy to do, it’s challenging and costly. Spain has to think of a new future for specialized stores. I believe that NaturaSì can be an inspirational model. We already have two stores in Madrid, for historical reasons. And we have Biotobio Ibérica as our distributor. We believe that the market model we have in Italy could be also interesting for Spain, due to their similarity. We want to help Spain move in that direction. We are ready to share the best practices we also operate in the Spanish market.
To date, our strategy is to focus attention on the Italian market because the situation is complex and demanding. We want to maintain some initiatives across Europe but with no consolidation objectives. We are happy to have a small presence here and there, mainly to demonstrate a shared vision for the future. Because organic is something much more than just a business.
Author: Oriol Urrutia, Co-Editor.
Published in the BIOFACH & VIVANESS 2023 Bio Eco Actual Special Edition.
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Read the BIOFACH & VIVANESS 2023 Bio Eco Actual Special Edition