Coop Denmark blazes trail on organic food

Denmark’s top organic food retailer is a co-operative founded over 150 years ago – and its commitment to meeting members’ needs has been crucial to its success. Supermarkets...

Denmark’s top organic food retailer is a co-operative founded over 150 years ago – and its commitment to meeting members’ needs has been crucial to its success.

Supermarkets across Europe fear deflation, but Coop Denmark’s approach is different. “Everything will not be about prices in the future,” says Brian Sønderby Sundstrup, senior corporate social responsibility adviser.

Coop Denmark is today the country’s largest grocery chain retailer with 1,200 shops and over 1.3m consumer members. This means almost every household in Denmark, a country of five million people, is a member of the co-op.

“We think the market will change so we have already started to set a new agenda about food, food quality and a better food culture,” says Mr Sundstrup. “Upcoming consumers don’t have awareness of food quality. There’s a difference between what you can buy and what you can eat.”

The co-op, the first Danish retailer to sell organic products back in 1982, accounts for 50% of total organic sales in Denmark and 38% of the ecological organic market share. Customers buying their organic products are also more aware of environmental issues and health, says Mr Sundstrup.

But the higher price of organic food remains a challenge. The co-operative hopes to reduce these by growing its business and building a consumer organic food movement – and has already led the way by being the first to reduce its prices for a wide range of organic products by 15 to 20%, in 1993.

Now Coop Denmark has launched a new campaign – Together for Better Food. Under this, the co-op has signed a long-term agreement with an organic farm, Søris.

The partnership will enable customers in the metropolitan area gain access to local products. They will be able to buy organic fruits and vegetables from Coop stores as well as processed products. Members of Coop Denmark can also visit the farm and view the production process.

Other retailers have now started to sell organic products and the Danish state-owned organic food label O is familiar to 98% of all Danish customers.

“When you improve the market and you’re right you have a lot of followers, we see it as a success, that we are doing something right,” adds Mr Sundstrup.

“The level than we’ve reached now is the highest level and the market is more prepared for this than it was when we began.”

While Coop Denmark’s main sector remains retailing, the co-op has started to provide other types of services for its members.

Two years ago, it opened its own bank as a subsidiary. The co-op had been providing bank services through a partner bank for many years, but it decided to set up its own bank and offer cheaper services for its members.

Most Coop Denmark shops also have post offices, which means customers can order products online and pick them up from the post office. Online shopping is a growing trend in Denmark.

“We should come up with the solution before they see the problem,” says Mr Sundstrup. “Our customers are our owners, so we should be better at reaching their needs than our competitors.”

Apart from meeting customers’ needs, the co-op is trying to maintain the relationship with its members by engaging with the local community. Employees and members get involved in various local volunteering projects and the most successful ones are then tested in other shops.

“We have a different role to play within the Danish market and have done so since the beginning,” adds Mr Sundstrup.

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