The big surprise of the last three years was the sudden reversal of fortune for the organic market, which saw double-digit growth turn into an overall sales decline of 12% in 2022. The end of a golden age of organic trade in France seems to be confirmed by a majority of specialized grocery stores reporting falling customer enthusiasm in 2022. However, look a little closer and areas of genuine positivity can be seen.

specialized organic retail channel in France
Author: Jean-Louis Zimmermann. Creative Commons

At the end of 2022 there were 3,086 specialized organic stores in France, down from 3,258 units in 2021 (a drop of 5.3%). But this slight fall can be put into perspective when it is remembered that the total number of specialist stores was 2,826 in 2017.

Against a national market decline of 12% in 2022, Biocoop, the leading specialist organic retailer in France, has been fighting back, delivering a turnover of 1.495 billion euros in 2022, down 5.6% on the previous year.

The organic market in France has been declining since 2021, but this economic situation should be put into perspective.

While Biocoop announced 35 closures in 2022, it opened 41 new stores during the year. As of December 31, 2022, Biocoop thus had 765 points of sale (741 in July 2023). Safeguard and receivership procedures are multiplying within the brand, as specialized organic retail encounters a period of strong market turbulence.

An activist brand for 35 years, Biocoop has recently doubled down on its values and positioning: “Continue to offer a demanding organic, fair, and rooted in the seasons,” Pierrick De Ronne, President of Biocoop, has commented.

The organic market in France has been declining since 2021, but this economic situation should be put into perspective

Naturalia (part of the Casino Group) is the second largest network of specialized stores in France. With 245 points of sale, its turnover of 355 million euros in 2022 was down 7.8%. After months of preparation, the retailer’s first concept store outlet called “the Parisian farm” opened its doors in March 2023 in Paris 12th. A second pilot store opened in SaintOuen (93), north of Paris on August 4. The development represents an important brand repositioning and a new direction in shopper experience, drawing inspiration from iconic US natural grocery retailer Trader Joe’s (with more than 550 stores across the USA, and owned by the founding family of Aldi).

Naturalia says it wants to introduce more “pleasure and playfulness” into the organic retail space and move away from the sector’s image of worthiness. The retailer believes the new store format will appeal both to existing loyal organic consumers and those who are looking for a more enjoyable and celebratory retail environment – and who may have abandoned organic in 2022.

specialized organic retail channel in France
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La Vie Claire, France’s leading organic franchise operator, with a network of 400 stores (franchise & integrated), saw its turnover fall by 8.7% to around 325 million euros at the end of 2022. More encouragingly, the management at La Vie Claire report that “the first figures for 2023 show a return to growth”.

Bio c’ Bon and, both owned by the Carrefour group, operate more than 150 specialized organic stores across the two brands: Bio C Bon with 77 stores including 53 in Paris and the Paris region, and So Bio with 74 points of sale. Carrefour remains very discreet about its turnover.

NaturéO (60 stores in 2019, 36 in 2023) produced a turnover in 2022 of less than 100 million euros, compared to 120 million euros the previous year. Last spring, the brand announced to its suppliers that it was placing its stores and its Compagnie Bio & Nature headquarters in the safeguard procedure (the safeguard procedure is a legal remedy open to companies encountering financial difficulties).

In June 2022 L’Eau Vive also announced the opening of a safeguard procedure (a period during which the assets of 23 stores are frozen, out of the 27 of its integrated portfolio). The franchise stores are not affected with the exception of one store in receivership.

Centrale Bio, the logistics operator for l’Eau Vive, is ceasing its activity due to the “decline in the market” for organic products. Biomonde operates 150 stores in 2023, compared to 170 in 2020.

specialized organic retail channel in France
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Les Comptoirs de la Bio, with 81 stores (July 2023) became 100% owned by the group in 2022, and recorded a turnover of 140 million euros from 98 points of sale in 2022. A year earlier, the network reported a performance of 311 million euros from a portfolio of 151 stores (including network sites, but not necessarily under the Les Comptoirs de la bio banner)!

Marcel & Fils currently operates 62 stores. The acquisition of the 16 La Vie health stores in 2022 will enable it to reach around 140 million euros in turnover.

A level of stability can be seen in the “small networks”, including Satoriz with 39 stores (one closure in 2022), Leopold market, 27 stores, Le Grand Panier Bio,19 stores, and My Bio Shop with 23 stores.

To ease the decline in consumption of organic products, specialized retailers are trying to work on their price image. They are able to use several levers, including product mix, and borrowing tools from general retail, such as promotions in partnership with processors. “Price is not a barrier. The key is education”, says Laure Verdeau, director of Agence Bio.

Out of six organic outlets, three are in decline, three others are growing (outside the home: public and commercial catering). The win-win solution since 2022 seems to be the effective marrying of organic and local.

Biocoop executives are betting on a return to growth no later than 2024, and many traders have already announced a restart of sales in their stores in the first quarter of 2023.

Author: Gerard Gontier, French Organic Market Expert

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Article Originally Published in NATEXPO 2023 Bio Eco Actual Special Edition