Latvia’s organic sector is growing – still plenty of potential for organics
by Redaktion (comments: 1)
The organic sector in Latvia has developed well over the last ten years. The number of organic farms has tripled to around 3,470, and the land area managed organically expanded in 2013 to 200,000 ha. Products are sold direct, in specialist shops and also in the conventional retail food trade. The importer and wholesaler Cintamani Baltic is domiciled in the capital Riga. The company also operates the chain Bioteka, that has ten outlets. You find a large number of German brands in the stores. However, in the countryside the farmers rely on direct selling and niche products. From 12 - 22 January 2015, Latvia is to be the partner country of the 85th International Green Week in Berlin.
(Picture: Nature, culture and tradition are important values in Latvia – a good basis for the development of the organic sector.)
The middle of the three Baltic states, in terms of organics Latvia has caught up in recent years: whereas in 2004 only approximately 44,000 ha were farmed organically, in 2013 the Ministry of Agriculture recorded an organic land area of 200,000 ha, which means that as a percentage of the total agricultural land, organic land increased from 2% to around 5 %. Although the number of organic farms more than tripled from 1,043 to 3,473, it has fallen in comparison with the years 2006 to 2009. At that time it was often a question of very small farms that were no longer supported by EU funds and as a consequence often did not seek certification. (Picture: Graphic of the Ministry of Agriculture showing the number of organic farms and organic land areas)
In 2007, the Latvian government introduced organic guidelines and a certification regime and, in order to support the organic sector, there are continuing state and EU support programmes and projects that are overseen by the organic association LBL. The total volume of the organic market currently amounts to approximately €10m. According to the market report produced by Ekoconnect, in 2011 conventional supermarkets accounted for over half of organic turnover, the wholefood trade’s turnover was about €1.5m, and other marketing channels like direct selling were responsible for the rest. (Picture: Flock of sheep on the KalnacîruĜi organic farm)
The firm Cintamani Baltic is a pioneer in organic marketing in Latvia. In 2005, the wholesaler and importer opened the first specialist shop called Biotēka in Riga, and today the company operates ten stores measuring from 20 m² to 150 m² of retail area. Biotēka also runs the only bio-beauty studio in Latvia. With annual sales to the value of around €2.5m, this pioneering company claims to contribute about a quarter of the country’s total organic turnover. Its turnover is made up of revenues from its shops and the wholesale business. It supplies about 20 organic retailers and the conventional supermarkets Stockmann and Rimi, the most important retail company in Latvia. Biotçka’s portfolio is rounded off by the country’s biggest organic online shop internet.bioteka.lv. (Pictures: The biggest Biotēka store and the Biotēka beauty salon)
Biotēka has an extensive product range consisting of around 4,000 organic items of 50 important international organic brands and Baltic manufacturers - food, cosmetics, detergents and cleaners and hygiene articles. Among the top brands are Rapunzel, Holle, Allos, Bauckhof, Simon Levelt, Hampstead Tea, Sonnentor, Biona, Natudis, John Masters Organic, Dr. Hauschka, Logona/Sante, Urtekram, Jason, Florame, Farfalla, Coslys, Ecover, and Sodasan. You don’t find much fresh food, and mostly none at all, in Biotēka stores – they concentrate on dry goods and cosmetics. (Pictures: Product range in Bioteka stores)
As the founder Stan Taraskins (picture) modestly explains, when Biotēka and the first shop were launched they didn’t intend to build up a whole chain: “What my friends and I were looking for was simply a means of buying organic products and making them available to other people. But from this tiny seed a mighty tree has grown, and we have helped to create the whole ecological and health-oriented lifestyle in Latvia.
The internet portal Bioteka is updated daily and, as Latvia’s biggest online organic platform, it has about 300 users every day. From the outset, it has served the propagation of the values and standards of the organic sector, says Taraskins. He points out that the portal informs, explains and tries to dispel the myths and misunderstandings that so often surround the organic industry. At Biotēka, there’s no shortage of ideas. With events and campaigns, the company maintains a presence in the media and remains interesting for customers. The result of these activities is that Biotēka is sometimes called “the green sect” in the mass media. (Pictures: With many campaigns, Biotēka advocates consumption of organics and environmental protection. Here a campaign against rubbish)
Despite the problematic economic situation in Latvia, the company’s successful concept means pleasing annual growth of 15 %. Taraskins attributes this success to the conviction and input of his team of 40: “We’re all in this together, we’re all totally committed. Our faithful following of around 6,000 customers and all the other customers are in good hands here. We want to carry on surprising them time and again with what we do.” Asked about plans for the future, Taraskins explains: “We don’t think much about the future. We simply do what the customers want of us, and sometimes a bit more to give them a nice surprise.”
(Pictures: Advertising campaign in a Biotçka store. Make-up campaign in the Biotēka Beauty Salon)
(Pictures: Biotēka stores)
Riga now has 20 specialist organic stores, and there are about a dozen in smaller towns spread across the country. Organics are also sold on a bigger scale in special departments in the two most important conventional chains Stockmann and Rimi. In addition, Latvia has seen in the last ten years the creation of five natural cosmetics brands (Madara among others), three dairies and eleven bakeries producing organic goods. People’s awareness of organics is higher than in Lithuania and Poland, according to Taraskins, who is also active in the Lithuanian market. He concedes that the organic market is better developed in Estonia, but he says that the organic industry in Latvia is progressing well.
A study commissioned by the Latvian cosmetics brand Mádara has revealed that for 90 % of consumers price continues to be the deciding factor or barrier when buying organic; 70 % of interviewees said that it is important that cosmetics are natural, and 30 % knew exactly the meaning of organic. Certified organic products are regularly consumed by roughly 2 % of the population in Latvia. (Picture: Riga’s old town)
Both specialist stores and the retail food trade offer predominantly dry goods and non-food. Fresh food is sold via farmers’ markets and at the farm gate. An example of successful direct selling is the KalnacîruĜi family farm, that converted to organic ten years ago. The organic farm in the Auces region in the west of Latvia has 210 ha of land on which the main crop is cereals. They have a flock of 300 sheep that supplies meat for direct marketing and wool. Some of the cereals and wool are processed on-farm and provide an income for the family of five. The farmer’s wife bakes about 50 loaves of bread each week and also produces confectionery and cakes that are sold to regular customers, at trade fairs and in a little shop in the vicinity. You can still see a loom in many rural households in Latvia. They produce blankets and scarves from the wool of their own sheep and thus generate extra income. The three daughters work on the farm. (Pictures: Family members on the KalnacîruĜi farm. As well as cereals, mutton, bread and confectionery, they sell traditional woven products)
Milk and dairy products, cereals and potatoes (and in particular starch), meat and berries are among the most important organic products in Latvia, although some of them can’t be sold as organic because there is not enough demand in the domestic market and exporting is not yet sufficiently developed. According to Ekoconnect, in 2011 only 10 % of products were exported. The firm Aloja Starkeisen is the market leader in potato starch, and Latvia is one of the most important producers of organic oats in the EU. Rye and spelt are also grown. Other best selling export products are herbal teas and honey. There is a shortage of organic processing companies, even though in recent years the situation has improved considerably. Between 2005 and the end of 2011, the number of new organic processors rose to 118. (Graphic of the Ministry of Agriculture: Proportion of processed organic products)
Among the important sources of income in Latvia, nature tourism and eco-wellness are playing an increasing role. This sector is to be expanded. The leisure centre Valguma pasaule on the Kurland peninsula has earned itself a good name with its two-kilometre long bare-foot path in a wonderful lake landscape and excellent cuisine for day tourists and those staying overnight.
(Pictures: An abundance of mushrooms and berries in the woods in Latvia. Eco-wellness and bare-foot path in Valguma Pasaule)