“Organic products are not a top priority in Sweden. We even considered leaving the brand as is.” This extraordinary statement was made by Anita Falknek, CEO of KRAV, the Swedish organic certification organisation, on 15 November at the Nordic Organic Food Fair in Malmö. The local Från Sverige brand has now almost surpassed the KRAV brand. An impressive achievement considering the former has only been in existence for two years.

The Swedish organic sector may be one of the best in the world, but this does not have much of an impact on the pragmatic Swedes. “Swedish consumers are concerned about where their food comes from. It is an affair of the heart: They feel more uneasy about products that come from afar because it is more difficult to trace their source. This is why Swedes prefer local foods”, Falknek said in her presentation at Scandinavia’s largest trade show for organic and natural foodstuffs. “In the first instance, they are looking for healthy foods. This is why the market for vegetarian, vegan and ‘free from’ products is doing so enormously well. Furthermore, the fact that foods meet high animal welfare and environmental standards is, for many, another important detail. Although these characteristics are reflected in the organic brand, the sector does not always identify itself with all of them. Consumers then also do not immediately associate these qualities with organic products.”

Local brand surpassing organic one

At first, KRAV reacted negatively to this development. “EU legislation has many restrictions, which affects the entire Swedish organic sector”, said Falknek. At KRAV’s latest stakeholders meeting, this was given as a reason to withdraw from the EU organic regulations. This meeting was called to discuss the recent shifts in the market.

Falknek assured members of the public present at the trade show that KRAV would, for the time-being, remain organically-orientated. She did, however, compel them to stay alert to other market developments. “At the moment, there are too many brands vying for the same group of consumers’ attention. Sweden is complaining about the proliferation of brands.” In that respect, it now seems KRAV has to acknowledge that the new Från Sverige brand (Swedish for ‘from Sweden’) is besting it. This brand guarantees that their products are local. “The preference for local products resonates in the fact that, in two years, the Från Sverige brand has gone from zero certifications to 8,000”, says the CEO. “Just as many as KRAV.” To illustrate: KRAV has been active in the market since 1985. Från Sverige still has to make their mark in the area of recognisability. “98% of consumers know what the KRAV brand stands for. That is hard to beat.”

Just cabbage is not enough
“Local is the new organic”, said Lars Persson of the Swedish co-operative, SydGrön, in the previous edition of Primeur. The fact that there is an increasing demand for local products is evident from the investments this co-operative is making in the area of cabbage storage. “But the Swedes cannot live on cabbage alone”, said Roelant Komen of Fairtrasa Holland at the Nordic Organic Food Fair. “They would rather not have a year-round diet based on cabbage.” According to this trader, Scandinavians are well-aware of the difference between organic and local. “Among a selection of exotic products on Swedish fruit and vegetable shelves, a common variety is less popular than an organic one. Choosing locally grown products in this product group is not an issue or the product is not grown locally. In this case, they like to fall back on the organic brands. In the eyes of Swedish consumers, an organic exotic product is an acceptable option in their quest for sustainability.”

Room for organic exotics

Michaela de Leonardis of BioTropic recognises that Swedish consumers prefer local products over organic ones. There is, however, a difference between what they want and what they can get. This exotics specialist fully understands that the Scandinavian countries are largely dependent on importing fruit and vegetables in order to meet domestic demand. Or, in the words of Sven Henze of Bio Freshi: “If you compare the average supply of an ICA with any Dutch retailer, it is immediately apparent how much space there is for foreign products - particularly for organic exotics.”