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"Germany: "Organic no longer just for treehuggers"

The organic company Westhoff Bio grew from 60 to 1000 hectares in 25 years and according to organic businessman Rainer Cartsens the end isn't in sight yet. He sees the German organic market grow further as a whole. He said this at the German Obst und Gemüse Kongress.

You can't escape it walking around in Dusseldorf. The Germany city in which the Obst und Gemüse Kongress was held last Friday is full of organic stores with a focus on organics, like many other German cities. The attention for the organic segment is large in the entire German market, and perhaps more importantly, growing. At the DOGK the theme 'Organic is growing - in fruit and vegetables too?' was in the spotlight.

View the photo report of the Obst & Gemüse Kongress here
 
1000 hectare of organic cultivation
One of the companies that has completely specialised in the organic segment is Westhoff Bio. The company once started with 60 hectares of cultivation and decided to switch to organics at the end of the 80's. In 27 years time the company has grown to an area of 1000 hectares. They grow various types of brassicas, potatoes, carrots and beets. They sell their production themselves. In 2010 the first greenhouse (4 ha) was built and last year another greenhouse of 6 hectares was taken into use. It is now being switched and will be able to produce organic greenhouse vegetables as of 2017. Westhoff Bio also has a frozen company and an organic (vergister?) Rainer Carstens talks about how all these streams keep each other in balance: how the trade is divided over the fresh sales and frozen branch, how vegetables that can't be sold go into the (vergister), after which the heat is lead to the freezing facility and the CO2 goes into the greenhouse.

End of growth in sight?
Carstens has seen the attention for organic produce rise for 25 years and expects the border for the market to still be out of sight. The fact that switching to organic production takes a while for a company to do comes into play here: at least two years. "Partially due to this the production is being adjusted to the growing demand slowly." In the region of Westhoff's nursery there has been a lot of switching in recent years. Partially due to the sales opportunities companies have due to the Westhoff trade company, more growers are choosing to work organically. "The simpler cultivations in particular such as a carrots are popular. The riskier cultivations such as broccoli less so," says Carstens.



Regionality vs organic?
There is also a flipside to this, notes Carstens. Regional origin is also an important topic on the German market. "Our Bundesland is actually too small for our organic production," says Carstens. Producing in other locations isn't always an option. "Certain regions are more suitable for organic production than other regions. Organic does well with us." How does he solve this? On the one hand by communicating honestly: always clearly showing the origin. And also by not caring too much. "Region is just another point. In China a mother pays four times as much for European produce for her children - was does regional origin mean then?"



Organic in the chain
The growing demand for organic product was viewed from the chain at the DOGK. Sarah Scharbert of Rewe speaks about trends that are also important to the organic sector. Convenience and eating on the go for instance, but also back to basic with salads and smoothies. "Natural and healthy is becoming sexy." And there is also the change in consumption: eating less meat and more vegetables is an important topic - just like clean eating. "The consumer wants to know what they're eating and where it comes from." The latter can sometimes conflict with organic food. "Although most customers find origin very important, the price that they have to pay for organic products is much higher. Only a small added price is paid for regional products."



Stimulating organic
Her presentation was complemented by that of Johannes von Eerde, also of the REWE Group. His figures show that the expenditure on organics isn't just rising, but that the share of organic compared to the total fruit and vegetable spending has risen over the last two years. And based on the trends that Scharbert named, he sees ways to further increase this. This is why the company is active in convenience and digitalisation, researching marketing concepts and trying to do more with what the customer really wants. "But also through better profiling," says Von Eerde. "The typical organic client doesn't wear Birkenstock, whilst that image is still sometimes assumed. Organic is much more a part of current day lifestyle."


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