The Supermarket is Green! EcorNaturaSí
The EcorNaturaSì Group distributes organic and biodynamic products in specialized stores and supermarkets in Italy. The brand holds a strong position in the national market for its ethical products and its many activities in support of organic agriculture and culture in general. Compared to other supermarket brands in the European region, NaturaSì does not see sustainability and responsibility for production and consumption as a marketing strategy tailored to the corporate vision. Rather, the brand has integrated its commitment to organic production into all its operations, offering healthy and quality products that promote human well-being. The company’s history is rooted in promoting the development of a healthy and balanced biodynamic agriculture and seems to incorporate these practices into everything it does.
The ideas of the renewal of agriculture, social life, and the science of nutrition are borrowed from Rudolf Steiner, who inspired the founders of Ecor, some of whom today preside over the Free Anthroposophical Foundation Rudolf Steiner, the majority shareholder of EcorNaturaSì.
Ecor has from the beginning supported its producers and shopkeepers, also through loan or gift logics (very close to the Steinerian ideology) [i] and applying the ‘right price’, that is a price that ‘responsibly’ takes into account the production costs, the value of a decent job, the externalities caused and that generates a margin that can be reinvested in research and in socially useful works.
The right price is opposed to the deceptively low price – as well explained by Raj Patel in his ‘The Value of Things’, a price that seems low (such as we spend $4 for a burger at a fast food chain), but actually corresponds to 50 times as much. If we consider the state subsidies paid to farmers of maize used to feed the cattle that are raised on deforested land (often illicitly), the state aid paid to the employees (often precarious) who work in restaurants with insufficient minimum wages or even spending on healthcare to treat diseases related to eating disorders, we find that today we are paying $200 for a hamburger that costs $4 for fast food. It is not a simple sophism.
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According to a study carried out by the London consultancy firm Europe Economics, the listing fees (quota of access to the shelf) that producers pay to distributors to be present in the sign amount to a figure between 30 and 40 billion euros are equal to half of the subsidies that the European Commission guarantees to EU farmers through the common agricultural policy (CAP). To be more explicit, the taxpayers’ money spent in the CAP only serves to innovate (perhaps in the direction of a lower ecological impact) and in part to support the production costs that the large-scale retail trade negotiates to ensure a turnover growth. The choice to cut internal labour costs contributes to this same goal, forcing employees and suppliers to sometimes extreme precarious conditions. In the collective imagination, the exploiters of the tomato fields are the “corporals” and the criminal organizations that organize these activities. On closer inspection, responsibility should be shared among all those who generate these mechanisms.
In this market struggle, the promise of the ‘right price’ [ii] maintained for Ecor brand products is likely to be engulfed by two factors, one endogenous (the choice to market non-exclusive products) and the other exogenous (the perception of the ‘right’ in an arena today more competitive than ever). Let’s go in order: Is the promise of the right price sustainable for the range of products that can be found in NaturaSì stores, as well as in the GDO? This doubt is linked to a crucial choice factor for the consumer, relating to the formation of the final price of the products on the shelf: how long can the claim for a higher price remain legitimate, when other competitors propose a portfolio of organic and sustainable references at more affordable prices? Without consumer education, it will be difficult (potentially impossible) to counter the persuasive force of retailers who loudly proclaim their sustainability and face the scandals that have cracked consumer confidence in the entire organic supply chain.
Recently Natursì has re-planned a campaign carried out in 2017 by the Milanese communication agency Rifattimale by Manfredi Marino and Ugo Berretta. A farmer from behind shows his B (Biodynamic) side and the payoff reads: “DISCOVER OUR B-IO SIDE.” A play on words to attract the attention of consumers and encourage them to adopt a more conscious lifestyle. Roberto Zanoni explains, General Manager of the brand: “Buying food at our supermarkets means recognizing the right price to farmers, facilitating the growth of organic and biodynamic agriculture that protects the land and its fertility. Here, paying a few cents more for the products makes sense. The consumer must understand and be aware of the fact that the purchase choice goes beyond his own portfolio, it is a real responsibility for us and for our children” [iii].
EcorNaturaSì enjoys an enormous competitive advantage and is now perceived as a leader in the ‘bio’ sector, but it is difficult to think that the attitude of consumers alone will change. To succeed in its purpose, Ecor should involve its competitors in the retail industry and turn them into accomplices by sharing knowledge and experience and guiding the transformation through the more widespread introduction on the market of biodynamic products made available to consumers of all income levels (and not only those who currently attend the Natursì stores). Ecor could incentivize the distribution of biodynamic products, guaranteeing potential growth for all producers thanks to the expansion of the network.
To accelerate the change, it is the responsibility of companies with a utopian mission (and EcorNaturSì is fully committed) to conduct ‘battles’ at the sector level to create sustainable environmental practices through their own value leadership (and not just the market).
[i] See, for example, the Adopt a Zolla23 project which invites (as a loan of money) parts of land on biodynamic farms.
[ii] The promise “The products we distribute must contribute to improving human health, as well as the well-being of the soil and the environment in which we live.”
[iii] “We want all consumers to be aware and make choices guided by awareness to protect human health, the environment and agriculture” explains Roberto Zanoni , General Manager of the brand. “NaturaSì has been committed for 30 years to supporting organic agriculture and farmers, for human and environmental health: buying food at our supermarkets means recognising the right price to farmers, facilitating the growth of organic agriculture and biodynamics that protect the Earth and it’s fertility. Here, paying a few cents more for the products makes sense. The consumer must understand and must be aware of the fact that the purchase choice goes beyond one’s wallet, it is a real responsibility for us and for our children because if we keep the land alive and fertile, here we can collect food that nourishes us and that does us good over time. This is our bio side: a commitment that we have put in place since the first day and that guides us even more today “.