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Interview with Mark Retzloff / Aurora Organic Dairy

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Mark Retzloff is one of the pioneers of the natural and organic sector in the U.S. For four decades he has been active in this business. Among others, he founded and managed several innovative natural food stores like Eden Foods (1969, in Ann Arbor, Michigan), Rainbow Grocery in Denver, Colorado and the regional natural foods supermarket chain Alfalfa´s Market, in Colorado. In addition to retail, he co-founded Horizon Organic Dairy, and helped to establish the organic milk industry in the U.S. And, he completed a successful turnaround of Rudi´s Organic Bakery, the largest organic bakery company in the U.S. As a co-founder of Aurora Organic Dairy in 2003, he continues to serve as Chairman of the Board, and is also a co-founder of the rebirth of Alfalfa’s Market in Boulder, Colorado, which will open its inaugural store in Spring of 2011. In addition to his professional successes, he has made it a priority to donate his time and expertise to the future of the organic industry.He was on the Organic Trade Association (OTA) Board for 10 years (1999 – 2001) and president for three years. He frequently lectures on the topic of entrepreneurship at leading universities, and he serves on the Boards of several start-up natural and organic companies. Retzloff received the OTA's Lifetime Achievement Award, among many others throughout his career. Karin Heinze talked with him in Boston.

Mr. Retzloff, you are one of the pioneers of the organic market in the United States, involved in many companies and the OTA. What is your cognition of the market development this year?

Growth is back again. We experienced about 5 % growth in 2009, and this year we will reach a higher percentage. More and more people are becoming concerned about their food. With information that is increasingly available to consumers, the NOP (National Organic Program) and other campaigns have supported growth in the organic movement. The OTA protects and promotes organic development, and our president Christine Bushway is doing a great job. OTA is stronger than ever and works hand-in-hand with the Organic Center. OTA and the Organic Center are communicating the benefits of organic agriculture and organic foods. Additionally, the activities of OTA and the Organic Center in the areas of independent research, has improved our ability to work together with companies, universities and global institutes like FibL in Switzerland and Bolk Institute in the Netherlands. Both are credible sources of information for consumers, but also have an impact on the political level. (Mark Retzloff was a founding Board member of The Organic Center, and currently serves as President of the Board.)

What are the obstacles and challenges for the organic markets in the future?

The greatest challenges will be for producers and manufacturers of organic foods to maintain the highest levels of integrity and quality of their products. Most organic products are sold in conventional grocery chains where you can seldom find advice from the staff. There is also a growing number of private label organic products on the shelves, which may or may not tell the story of organic production like the branded products. In order to continue to build consumer trust in organics, it is essential to have high quality that speaks for itself. That’s why the NOP and the USDA Organic seal are important to ensure consumers understand what went into the quality of that organic product. Dairy, for example, is a gateway for people to get introduced to organic products – they must taste the difference and understand the complex production system to know why organic is the best choice. Secondly, we hear more and more about sustainability and environmental stewardship, and we need to convince people that organic production is better in terms of sustainability and the environment, as well as social and ethical aspects of food production. A big challenge today is the topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). We already have a high level of GMOs in the foods grown in the U.S. and we have to get the Federal Government to understand that protection of organic agriculture is necessary to ensure the integrity of organic products grown on U.S. soils. Another concern among the core organic community is that many pioneering organic companies have been sold to conventional multinationals and whether that organic company’s core values and culture can be maintained.

You are worried about that trend or is there also a positive aspect?

We are only a small part of a big country. For example here at the show in Boston (Expo East/BioFach America) a lot of people from the conventional sector are looking around to see what is going on, because the organic market develops so well and continues to lead many of the trends in food. We cannot know what the big companies plan with their small organic units, but we need to pay attention. On the other side, the positive aspects are that there is both a shift in the generation – Millennials are considered to be the best organic consumers to date – and having access to more capital, means that an increasing awareness in organic for these companies is a good investment.

Where do you see your task and where is the target of the organic movement?

At Aurora Organic Dairy, it is our mission to make organic milk more affordable and accessible to more Americans, so we only focus on the private label market. The conventional grocery chains need reliable, authentic organic products and they would like to have more products in higher quantities. The future of organic will be bringing organic to more people, as the penetration is still only in the low-single digits. Today the big chains sell the most organic products, but we need to expand that and sell organics everywhere that consumers do their shopping. To spread the message is one of the most important targets for the organic business. I think many of the natural foods retailers are doing a good job, as they are noticed and well accepted by the consumers, also farmer´s markets are growing very well. In the worldwide organic movement, we should pay more attention to be open minded and work towards more organic research, inspiration, product development and realization of standards, while maintaining the cultural differences.

Mr. Retzloff thank you for this talk.


North America


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