Movement - The World of Natural and Organic Products

Heinz W. Kuhlmann

Back to Nature!
Jean-Jacques Rousseau


For thousands of years nature has provided food and other necessities for mankind. Throughout history raw materials were refined and put to various uses in order to make life more comfortable. This has always caused some damage and changes to nature, but only during the past two centuries has the exploitation of nature become a serious problem.

The French philosopher had primarily civilization and education in mind when he made the above demand, however, it also applies to natural and organic products. The industrial revolution in the 19th century brought progress, wealth and social changes to many people in Western and other countries, such as Japan. Extensive use of agrochemicals increased agricultural productivity and provided more food for a growing population. Chemistry and technology were also used to preserve food and to develop artificial substitutes for natural food. This development was not only welcomed by most people, but made the nations self-sufficient to a great extent, when it comes to their food supply.


Towards the end of the 19th century in Germany and other European countries people from all walks of life became conscious and critical about the consequences of the industrialization for nature, health and society. They founded or joined various movements which offered and promoted alternatives for natural and healthy lifestyles. The nature cure movement, the vegetarian movement, the anti-alcohol movement and the Wandervogel movement are popular examples. These life reformers also looked for alternatives to conventional products: medicinal herbs, vegetables and plants as substitute for meat, tasty non-alcoholic beverages, natural and comfortable clothes and other daily necessities.

Since these goods were not readily available on the market, new business opportunities emerged for members of these movements. In 1887 a new type of shop meeting such demands opened up in Berlin under the promising name “Gesundheitszentrale” (Health Center). In 1900 the first Reformhaus which became a generic name for this kind of shops was set up in Wuppertal (Germany) under the name “Reformhaus Jungbrunnen” (Fountain of Youth).

In the following decades Reformhaus shops and restaurants spread all over Germany and neighboring countries, and currently there are about 1,500 in Germany and around 600 in Austria. All Reformhaus operators are independent entrepreneurs devoted to the concept of both, selling products as well as providing their customers with professional advice. In the beginning they offered mainly simple natural foodstuff and daily necessities, but with changing consumer tastes they also added modern and more sophisticated products. Reformhaus outlets are usually rather small, consequently they are facing a fierce competition from organic supermarkets and chain stores with lower prices. Nevertheless, they can still count on faithful individualistic customers appreciating the variety of products for wellness, enjoyment and health plus competent and valuable advice.

While Reformhaus is still well known in Germany and Austria, the original idea and concept have faded. Only few people know that its name originates from movements for life reform. In recent years LOHAS, a new, but in many ways similar movement advocating a healthy and natural lifestyle has attracted many members, first in the United States, then also in Europe and Japan.

Origin and Development of Organic Farming

Organic Farming is the outcome of theory and practice since the early years of the 20th century, involving a variety of alternative methods for agricultural production, mainly in Europe.

There have been three important movements:

→ Biodynamic Agriculture, which began in Germany under the inspiration of Rudolf Steiner;
→ Organic Farming, which originated in England on the basis of the theories developed by Albert Howard;
→ Biological Agriculture, developed in Switzerland by Hans-Peter Rusch and Hans Müller.

Even though there are some differences in thought and emphasis, the common features of all these movements are strengthening the link between farming and nature as well as promoting respect for a natural balance. The movements distance themselves from the interventionist approach to farming, which maximizes yield through the use of various kinds of chemical products.

Despite the vitality of these movements, organic farming remained undeveloped in Europe for many years. Between the two world wars a number of farms and gardens were successfully operated with natural methods. During the 1930s in Germany the co-operative Demeter began marketing organic products with its own quality label and grew into a leading supplier of natural and organic products over the years.

Throughout the 1950s the main goals of farming, in Europe and many other countries, were to achieve a major improvement in productivity in order to satisfy immediate needs for food and to raise the rate of self-sufficiency. Under such circumstances organic farming was not viewed very favorably.

Only since the end of the 1960s organic farming has come to the forefront in response to the emerging awareness of environmental conservation issues. New associations were founded and prospered involving producers, consumers and others interested in ecology and a lifestyle more in tune with nature. These organizations drew up their own specifications and rules governing production methods.

It was not until the 1980s, however, that organic farming really took off. Along with consumers interest in organic goods the production methods in western countries as well as in Japan and Australia continued developing. There was a major increase in the number of manufacturers and new initiatives for processing and marketing organic products got underway.

This situation conductive to the development of organic farming was largely due to consumers’ strong concern about the supply with wholesome, environmental-friendly products. At the same time the public authorities were gradually recognizing organic farming, including it among their research topics and adopting specific legislation. In Germany, the Green Party played an important role in drafting laws and regulations for environmental protection and organic farming and products.

However, despite all these efforts, organic farming was hampered by a lack of clarity. Consumers were neither sure about what was really covered by organic farming and natural and organic products, nor were they aware of the restrictions it implied. The reasons for this confusion lay among other things in the existence of a number of different schools or philosophies, the lack of an uniform terminology, the non-standard presentation of products and the tendency to blur the distinctions between terms, such as organic, natural, wholesome, etc. Furthermore, there were frequent cases of fraudulent use of labeling referring to organic methods.

Both, the growing demand for organic products and a continuously increasing number of producers, distributors and retailers, lead to an imperative necessity of a proper certification system. In the early days, consumers bought organic products directly from farmers or shops whose owners they trusted and knew personally. Such systems, as for example the teikei system in Japan, still exist and are quite successful. However, they come with both, advantages and disadvantages.

In spite of certification, international standards and national labels, such as the Bio-Siegel in Germany and Organic JAS in Japan, these problems still exist to some extent in a number of countries where the organic movement is rather young and consumers can find a variety of „healthy products“, sold as natural, green, chemical-free/reduced and organic, but without clear explanations about the respective differences. Furthermore, existing regulations and standards are not uniform and differ between countries and organizations. In Germany, for example, the standards of organizations for organic agriculture and products (Ökoverbände), such as Bioland, Demeter, Naturland and others, are stricter than national or EU standards.

The Bio-Siegel which was introduced in September 2001 by the German government in order to promote clarity and trust for certified organic products is now used by 1,352 companies and on 28,672 products (as of June 2005). Thus, the Bio-Siegel became the leading and most widely recognized label for organic products in Germany.

In view of the described circumstances, adopting formal rules was the best way to give organic farming credibility in the quality products niche market. The European Community adopted a legal framework in the early 1990s. The movement towards official recognition of organic farming later spread to several other countries and was followed by international initiatives. Other countries, such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, the United States, China, Japan and Korea, have also adopted their own specific organic farming legislation.
Consumer Information | Business Information

Consumer Information

Natural & Organic - Non-Food Products

In many countries, especially in Asia including Japan, producers and consumers do not distinguish clearly between natural and organic products. The following somewhat simplified definition gets to the point: All organic products are natural (and traceable), but in addition to being natural they must also be certified. Natural products without proper certification cannot be sold as “organic” as stipulated by legal regulations in most countries where organic products are produced and sold.

Many retailers in Japan and other Asian countries offer a wide mix of natural and organic products in their shops. This can be confusing for consumers unless they are aware of certification and required organic labels attached to real organic products.

Nevertheless, there is a close relationship between natural and organic products. Both are based on similar concepts, such as:

→ Made of natural ingredients without (or with reduced) chemicals
→ Traditional, nutritious, healthy and safe food
→ Friendly to the environment and sustainable

In view of the above, many governments and private organizations promote and support so-called “eco” and “green” products and there is a huge market for such products, much larger than for 100% organic products.

Trade fair organizers, such as NürnbergMesse, have taken these facts and trends into account and integrate them into their events. All BioFach events globally adhere to the strict admission criteria for organic products. However, in order to attract more buyers (for organic and natural products) NürnbergMesse Group also organizes parallel events for natural products and non-food products:

→ BioFach plus Vivaness in Germany
→ BioFach Japan with Natural Eco Plaza
→ BioFach America Latina plus Expo Sustentat in Brazil
→ BioFach America is held in cooperation with the organizers of Natural Products Expo
→ BioFach China is held in collaboration with Green Food China
→ BioFach India with a focus on certified organic food also has exhibitors with natural and non-food products

In Japan most consumers consider only food and beverages as organic products, even if they can clearly distinguish between "natural" and "organic". However, products like cosmetics and body care products, remedies and supplements,
detergents, textiles, building materials, furniture, paper and toys, etc. can also be classed as organic and contributing to a natural and healthy lifestyle. Many of these goods cannot be certified in the same way as food, but still need to meet strict criteria to be admitted to BioFach and Vivaness.

Strong Growth for Organic Cotton

Many consumers perceive cotton as a "natural fiber” and are not aware of the huge amounts of chemical fertilizers being used on cotton fields and leading to both, inferior products, as well as to enormous damages to the environment. In recent years various studies and consumer movements, such as LOHAS, have revealed these facts. Consequently the demand for real natural and certified organic cotton has increased.

In Japan there is an increasing demand for organic cotton even though these products are considerably more expensive than those made of conventional cotton. Parents are concerned about allergies of their children which can be caused by cheap conventional cotton, chemical detergents and body care products. Foreign and Japanese companies are benefiting from this trend and can anticipate a growing business. This is also reflected by a growing number of exhibitors at all BioFach events since 2009/2010, with special zones for organic cotton and other natural textiles.


LOHAS buyers usually can afford higher prices for superior quality and are willing to pay more for products from developing countries offered by fair-trade organizations. The international fair-trade criteria cover basic ecological aspects for all products. Organic cultivation is specifically encouraged by an additional price mark-up, although dispensable. That way producers obtain an incentive for conversion and the share of organic products in the TransFair range is prospering.

Having a Fairtrade label does not automatically mean that the products can be sold as “organic”. In order to use the term “organic” and respective labels, the projects and goods must go through organic inspection procedures.

Fairtrade and BioFach have much in common and liaise closely. Some of these products, for example coffee, tea, chocolate, organic cotton and products from wild collection are also exhibited at BioFach.


The LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) movement which started in the United States has also spread to Europe, Japan and other countries. The LOHAS movement is loosely organized into numerous chapters and groups. Therefore, it is quite difficult to estimate the actual number of people associated with LOHAS and to obtain information about their goals and activities. According to several surveys well over 30% of the Japanese adults recognize the word and are probably LOHAS consumers. In Japan there are many LOHAS groups, clubs and publications.

LOHAS market sectors are: sustainable economy, healthy and ecological lifestyles, alternative healthcare, and personal development. In combination, these sectors attract a large number of consumers and generate a big business volume.

The LOHAS boom in Japan also enhances the awareness and benefits of natural and organic products among consumers and provides good business opportunities. Organic and natural products make up a large portion of the LOHAS market. LOHAS people are mainstream consumers and often have substantial influence in their companies, groups and neighborhood.
Traditional Japanese values, such as profound respect for nature, traditions and craftsmanship, coupled with their high-quality food and health-conscious orientation, all match with LOHAS values and therefore present a promising breeding ground for further market growth.

Just as FairTrade, LOHAS is closely connected with BioFach. In Japan several LOHAS groups, in particular LOHAS Business Alliance (LBA), are supporting the BioFach Japan.
In November 2010 a LOHAS EXPO was held in Korea. (See more related information and articles on the portal.)

Business Information

Organic Products and Markets

Organic Agriculture in the World

The demand for organic products was not much affected by the global economic crisis and organic agriculture is still prospering. According to recent surveys presented at BioFach 2011 in Nuernberg, Shanghai 2011/2012 and the IFOAM World Congress held in Korea in September 2011 in well over 120 countries more than 35 million hectares are managed organically by an estimated 1.5 million producers. The true figures would be more than double taking into account that the majority of farmers using organic methods are not certified yet. In addition to organic farmland, there are over 65 million hectares of registered areas for organic wild collection projects, mainly in Europe, Africa and Asia. The total collection area is probably much larger because not all regions and projects have been surveyed and identified.
Australia, China, Argentina and the USA constitute the countries with the largest organic areas. Supported by the government and international organizations the organic agriculture and production in India is rapidly increasing and serves as a base for BioFach India, which was held for the third time in November 2011 in Bangalore.

Due to the accession of many new member states to the EU and a growing demand, organic farming in Europe showed a steep increase. The leading countries are still Italy, Spain and Germany, but there is also much growth in Eastern Europe, especially in Ukraine. In Japan the estimated organic farmland still amounts to 5,000 to 6,000 hectares, thus the changes are not worth mentioning. Due to the damages caused by the earthquake in March 2011, organic farmland has emerged in other regions of Japan.

The International Organic Market

According to Organic Monitor, the global market for organic food and beverages is recovering from the economic slowdown, with revenues of about US$ 60 billion in 2010.
The European market for organic food and beverages is the largest in the world, followed by North America. Both markets continue to grow and represent over 80% of the global revenues.
Raw materials and increasingly also processed goods are imported in large volumes from Australia, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The consumer demand for natural and organic products is increasing all over the world, and the retail sales volume is estimated to account for over 60 billion US-Dollars. It is difficult to obtain exact figures, since consumers and retailers in many countries (especially in Asia) do not clearly distinguish between organic and natural products.

The Organic Market in the Asia-Pacific Region

The organic movement in the region is making good progress, not least because of the support of central and regional governmental organizations. For over 10 years FAO, IFOAM and UNCTAD have worked in partnership to reduce barriers to the trade of organic products resulting from differences in organic standards and regulations. Many conferences and meetings in several countries have brought much progress for achieving these goals.

Market and New Developments in Japan

The growth of organic agriculture and the demand for organic products in Japan are still moderate. Nevertheless, the Japanese market is (perhaps after China) still the largest in Asia and has a big potential, especially if natural non-food products are included.
According to recent surveys and estimates currently the total volume of domestic and imported organic products represents a value of over 150 billion Yen (approx. 1.3 billion US$). The market for so-called green food (grown with reduced agrochemicals and pesticides) is much larger and valued at around 600 billion Yen. These are impressive figures, even though they present only a fraction of the total market for conventional food and beverages.

Until now the demand and market for organic products in Japan has been increasing at a slower pace than in Western and some Asian countries. Major obstacles are a limited range and variety of available products in supermarkets and other shops and especially the comparatively high prices. With few exceptions organic products, whether from domestic production or imported, are 2-3 times more expensive than comparable conventional products. This is similar in other Asian countries and quite different from Europe and North America where the price gap is much smaller (20-30% and sometimes more, depending on the product) and organic products are affordable for people with an average income. This unfortunate situation will only change if and when major food companies and retailers go organic and offer a larger variety of organic products. There is evidence to suggest that this is likely to happen in the near future. A major reason and motivation for both, producers and consumers, is the growing concern about safe food and reliable sources of raw materials.

Like elsewhere, Japanese consumers are concerned about food safety, and the government values a high ratio of self-sufficiency. Revitalizing domestic agriculture is an urgent national priority. Promoting full-fledged organic agriculture which provides safe, healthy and high-quality foodstuff, a stable income for producers and a sustainable food production, should be the responsibility of Japanese agriculture. Nevertheless, Japan will always depend on a large share of imported food and must avoid international critic and problems resulting from unreasonable restrictions in food imports.

The earthquake on 11 March 2011 and subsequent disasters have caused many human losses and great damage to the Japanese economy, including organic farming. Rebuilding and recovery are progressing, and the production and demand for organic products will also gradually increase.
As a consequence of the earthquake (see related articles on the portal) and even more because of the accidents in the nuclear power plants resulting in radiation and destruction of a large agricultural area, the awareness and demand for safe and healthy organic products is increasing.

Organic JAS

A major reason for the current stagnation of the organic market in Japan is the general lack of awareness about organic products among Japanese consumers. Ten years after its introduction Organic JAS is still not well known.

Organic JAS which was introduced in 2001 (when the first BioFach Japan was held) is based on EU standards. From the beginning Japan and the EU have held many meetings and negotiations about the equivalence status, and in May 2010 Japan has finally been added as the eighth country to the EU list of third countries whose organic certification and regulatory programs are deemed to be equivalent to the EU Organic Regulation. The other approved countries are: Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Costa Rica, India, Israel and Switzerland.

Japan more or less accepts organic products certified according to EU regulations. However, such products are still subject to Organic JAS regulations before they can be sold; a time-consuming and expensive process.

Some organic products which can be certified and sold in other countries are not yet covered by Organic JAS. Among them are, for example, fish and marine products and many so-called “organic wild collection” products. Organic wine, sake and other alcoholic beverages cannot carry the “Organic JAS” label for tax reasons, even though the ingredients, such as rice or grapes, can be certified.

In 2010 the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) started a project for the promotion of organic products and support of Japanese organic farmers.
As a part of this project MAFF has organized and subsidized a large group pavilion where organic farmers from many regions can display their products and find potential buyers and distributors by means of the matchmaking program. After this project was successful last year, the stand and matchmaking continue at BioFach Japan 2012.

Several indications suggest that Japan will make progress with organic products.

IFOAM Japan (IFJ) has conducted an extensive survey about the Japanese organic market in cooperation with a team of experts. The results were published in summer 2010 (in Japanese).
In the global context Japan is ready for organics. The future of organic products mainly depends on the choice of consumers. The IFOAM report illustrates not only the opinions and preferences of consumers, but also the degree of cooperation on the organic market between agriculture, trade and industry on the one hand and administration, research institutes and private enterprises on the other hand. Furthermore, a broad clarification of the focuses of the food chain is intended. This Organic Market Research Project originated to gather suggestions for political measures to enlarge the organic market and to possibly develop a social movement.
In cooperation with IFJ and other experts ABC Enterprises has published the (probably) first comprehensive English report about the Japanese organic market. Our report is based on the Japanese version plus an appendix with additional information and articles, e.g. an article about the earthquake disaster in March and the aftermath (See more related information on the portal).
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