At Gourmet Selection in September last year in Paris, Marie-Edith Lecoq, the founder and publishing director of the magazine Le monde de l’épicerie fine, hosted a round table with two guests, both specialists in online organic fine food: Alain Léon, the founder of Savor et sens, and Jean-Marc Zeil, the managing director of Les Thés de la Pagode.
By way of introduction, Savor et sens is distributed by 2,000 delicatessens. Exporting to 50 countries, Savor et sens generates turnover of €8 million. Meanwhile, Les Thés de la Pagode originate in the Chinese Yunnan province, close to the Burmese border. The teas marketed have always been 100% organic since the outset, since they are harvested from wild plants. Organic certification dates back 15 years. And for the past 15 years, the famous department store Le Bon Marché sells Les Thés de la Pagode.
ORGANIC AND CONSUMERS: A SOMETIMES CONTRADICTORY RELATIONSHIP
Twenty-five years ago, it was not easy to eat and drink organic: the concept was hard to sell. Certain products were listed by retailers, but the consumer was not prepared for this type of purchasing approach. Today, customers are much more in demand of this type of product, whether it is a gourmet product or not.
The phenomenon is more urban than rural, it applies more often, for example, to families with children, where health aspects carry more weight in food selection criteria. In rural areas, nevertheless, people also consume organic food, considered healthier. Here, though, it does not bear certification. In this respect, organic fine food is a genuine subject of interest.
DOES ORGANIC FINE FOOD CREATE A BARRIER TO TASTE CREATIVITY?
The round table featured two contrasting experiences. At Savor et sens, the difficulty resides in customers’ desire to be surprised by products. They expect to see innovation in the shop or online. Grocers must thus offer an organic and gourmet fine food product which is eco-friendly but also constantly innovative.
Alain Léon adds that “raw materials in organic are changing and hard to get,”: the customer must change their cultural posture. An organic Espelette chili pepper changes colour as it ages, as does matcha tea.
Logically, Les Thés de la Pagode do not face this problem as they are organic by nature. When the tea is sold in a flavoured version, the flavourings are organic. According to Jean-Marc Zeil, “organic is not something that curbs creativity.” The challenge for the tea producer is to own a fully organic supply chain and get the customer to understand that natural channels do not have the same efficient productivity as that of pesticide-treated agriculture.
EXPLAINING TO THE CUSTOMER THE LIMITATIONS OF ORGANIC CONSUMPTION
On the tea side, the customer must accept lower quantities, and the producer and distributor must manage its supply chain and stock. At Savor et sens, Alain Léon has taken some tough decisions: for example, to supply all his clients with wasabi mustard, the gourmet product creator takes full responsibility for rounding out his stocks with non-organic wasabi.
But the rest of the time, Savor et sens makes every effort to avoid being out of stock of raw materials. Several certifications of the same product can help to achieve this, for example. Where necessary, the customer must accept not receiving their organic fine food product on the scheduled date.
ECO-FRIENDLY PACKAGING, A CUSTOMER DEMAND AND A DELICATESSEN GOAL
While organic food is now the norm, organic delicatessen is still developing fast. Customer awareness with regard to their purchasing habits has now spread to the packaging of the products they choose. Customers, according to various observations, wish to see packaging that has a low environmental footprint, but which is also attractive.
The professionals in the online grocery sector do not mince their words: you can reduce the packing, but you cannot totally do without it either. Finding the right balance between green, attractive, virtuous and cost-effective is currently a tricky equation. This means that organic fine food retailers must make tough choices.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT MAKES PROGRESS ON GREEN PACKAGING
The food sector has totally grasped the fact that research and development projects must be focused on organic product packaging. Several avenues are being studied, and sometimes tried in store: for example, maize starch, cellulose or potato.
These processes appear satisfactory and effective, but for the moment, the product remains more expensive than a standard packaging product. In physical stores, some packages offer recycled metal, why not? It is for the client to decide how much they want to spend in their desire for green packaging.
Producers, distributors and consumers of organic gourmet food are going through a watershed with traditional production. Standard gourmet products often involve lesser quantities of food. Adding an organic certification makes the product even rarer, and the challenge is hard to address for fine food grocery professionals.
The issue of product proximity is also a problem for grocers: should we choose an organic fine food product from the other side of the world or a more standard foodstuff from next door? And, more broadly, will the planet be capable of supplying organic food to all its inhabitants?
Speakers: Marie-Edith LECOQ, LE MONDE DE L’EPICERIE FINE ; Alain LEON, SAVOR ET SENS and Jean-Marc ZEIL, THES DE LA PAGODE