• The organic food market suffered a 7-10% decline in sales in 2022, leading to numerous store closures.
  • Leader in the sector, the cooperative network Biocoop takes the hit and expects another complicated exercise.
  • Directors want to maintain their specifications and want to rely on their loyal and committed customers.

A very gloomy 2022 financial year. After years of growth and the apotheosis of the 2020 lockdown episodes, organic food brands quickly became disillusioned. Heckled by the decline in the food budget and the war in Ukraine, the sector has been shunned by some of its customers. For the past two years, the decline in retailers' turnover has been estimated at -7 or even -10% per year. The consequences were as sudden as they were violent for employees and customers alike. Throughout France, organic brands have closed their doors. It is estimated that more than 240 stores have disappeared across all brands. An emblematic brand in the sector, the Biocoop has not been spared. In 2022, the cooperative with the blue logo had to close about forty of its 700 points of sale. Will she recover? Its defenders hope so even if they expect a complicated 2023.

Welcome to Rennes, a dynamic metropolis of more than 200,000 inhabitants. Here, in 2022, there were thirteen Scarabée stores. Created in 1983, this cooperative society of collective interest was one of the pioneers of organic farming in France. She has largely contributed to the birth of the Biocoop cooperative network, which she joined since its birth in 1986. In recent years, Scarabée has seen its turnover increase every year. To keep pace with growing demand, it has even opened four new stores in less than two years. But patatras. Since then, they have all closed and the structure has been placed in receivership. "We have closed four stores, but there won't be one more," says Isabelle Baur. Before conceding. "We know 2023 will be complicated, but I'm confident."

If the CEO is so optimistic, it is because she has noted "a beginning of recovery" and turnover "that is rising" in stores. Against all odds, organic seems to benefit from an unlikely ally: inflation. "It is more than 11% in the conventional. This is much more than on our organic products [+5%]. The price gap is narrowing," says Isabelle Saur.

The bulk holds the barracks

Faced with soaring tariffs, the cooperative relies on its bulk products offered at a more attractive price. On unprocessed products, the margin is lower, making the tariff more accessible to the consumer. "We've seen our customer base change. People who came from time to time or out of curiosity, we don't see them anymore. Those who remain are mostly regulars who have a militant side, "says Gwenvael Saout, employee of Scarabée and CGT delegate. At the time of the redundancy plan, his union was very critical of the cooperative's lack of anticipation, arguing that signs of a downturn in the organic market were visible. "There was also a fad. And for some, it passed. »

At the exit of the store in Cleunay, west of Rennes, Elisa stores her basket on her bike. Despite inflation, she still comes here to shop. "Biocoop remains my main source of food. For me, it's a commitment and I don't want to go back on it. But I understand that some people turn away from it. Because it has a cost," explains this regular customer. This testimony alone tells why the big organic brand can be confident for the future. Unlike other brands, it can count on the loyalty of its committed customers. "Our entire project meets society's expectations. When we talk about short supply chains, food sovereignty, packaging reduction, water restrictions. People are sensitive to it. We have always taken all these things into account at Biocoop," says Isabelle Saur.

hello ptit tweet pr tell you that with inflation buy at biocoop will come back to you at the same price as the "normal" stores so enjoy pr better act on the planet please and go to them

— Maé 🎧 (@flam_ingo_) March 15, 2023

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The president of the management board pleads for the cooperative network to "keep its DNA" and not abandon its ideals, yet battered by the crisis. "It is the organic industrial type that suffers and that has come to disrupt the perception of consumers, that of products that come from afar, from seas of plastics, with fruits and vegetables out of season, not necessarily very good," recently explained Pierrick De Ronne to our colleagues at LSA. Like the president of Biocoop, many beg the cooperative not to change its specifications and to remain faithful to its values. "I saw that some competitors were going to get their organic label to diversify. I think that is a mistake. We must stay the course, remain clear and readable for our customers. And cross your fingers that 2023 is not a remake of the dark past year.

The rising cost of controlled energy

In the turmoil of soaring energy prices, the Biocoop brand can be satisfied with its historic choice to call on Enercoop in three quarters of its stores. More expensive, the energy cooperative agreed to freeze prices for 2023, saving the brand from disaster.

  • Society
  • Rennes
  • Brittany
  • Bio
  • Organic farming
  • Consumption
  • Feeding
  • Inflation
  • Mass distribution