Organic vs. local produce: Fruit importer Eosta argues for an informed purchasing decision
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Tropical fruit is a source of vitamins, but more and more consumers are concerned about its implications for the environment. Customers now prefer locally grown produce. Volkert Engelsman, managing director of Eosta, an international distributor of organic fruit and vegetables, advocates a differentiated approach to locally grown produce, as well as greater transparency.
Interview with Volkert Engelsman
Mr Engelsman, what’s behind this trend for locally grown produce?
The words “locally grown” have very emotional connotations whenever consumers talk about produce. They are not really thinking about geographical proximity – it’s more to do with credibility and authenticity. They associate locally grown produce with a relationship between the grower and the consumer, which has been lost in most sections of the modern food industry. If the grower lives around the corner, his cultivation methods are transparent to me as the consumer. I can see with my own eyes how he grows his produce. I can even ask him whether he eats his own vegetables or how much money he gets from the price paid in the shops.
But the greater the distance between the grower and the consumer, the more the latter has to rely on other people’s opinions, in order to make an informed decision. For this reason, with Nature & More, we have always attached great importance to maximum transparency, in order to build a new bridge between the consumer and the grower. A relationship of trust can only be developed if people are fully informed.
But is “locally grown” food not simply better?
We really should begin by explaining what “locally grown” actually means. As we have already mentioned, consumers tend to see it in terms of emotional rather than geographical proximity. For example, consumers have different tolerance and acceptance thresholds for different products, in terms of what is “locally grown” and what is not. It is often a highly subjective assessment. The “locally grown” label alone is far too vague to help us make conscious decisions when buying food.
Are organic apples from this country better than organic apples from Argentine?
I would like to highlight a few points. The idea that home-grown fruit is better for the environment is not always true. After it has been stored for half a year (especially with Ultra Low Oxygen storage or “ULO”), one German organic apple requires more energy, for example, than a freshly harvested organic apple from Argentine, which is transported to Europe by ship. Of course, the flavour also suffers if they are stored for a long time. Retailers can use these arguments when speaking to their customers. In addition, we should not only think about the climate footprint when deciding what to buy.
What else does the retailer need to know?
How does the grower act, for example, regarding water and soil management, biodiversity or social criteria? As part of our Nature & More programme, we provide retailers and their customers with as much information and sound arguments as possible, so that they can make their own informed decisions when making purchases. Many good projects provide local people with a livelihood and continue to help families and young people, such as our One Cent for the Future campaign.
Moreover, by stimulating demand for imported organic produce, we are sending out an important signal to farmers in developing and emerging countries. We are telling them that organic methods are a worthwhile and sustainable alternative to using chemicals and conventional agriculture. We are creating positive incentives for them to switch to organic. The positive contribution that we make by buying from them ultimately benefits us too – after all, we all live on the same planet. Every ‘buying decision’ made by a retailer or customer is a vote in favour of the world, in which we want to live.
Volkert Engelsman, Eosta:
In 1990, Volkert Engelsman founded Eosta with the aim of creating an organisation that could harmoniously combine economy and ecology. Eosta is now one of the world’s biggest organic fruit and vegetable companies. It has developed its own Trace & Tell system for its Nature & More own brand, which makes it possible to trace the origin of products back to the grower. As a result, Eosta has already been presented with a wide range of sustainability awards. In addition, the company is involved in a variety of campaigns. As part of the international “Save Our Soils” campaign, Eosta is working to promote soil-friendly organic cultivation practices. In 2016, the company launched its international “The True Cost of Food” price transparency campaign in partnership with IFOAM – Organics International.
Further information about Nature & More
Watch also the interview with Volkert Engelsman "The true costs of food"