The philosophy behind the organic food movement has never been more relevant. Public interest in healthy and ethical eating has never been higher with several key trends coming together in the specialty stores.
“People who shop in specialized organic food stores are generally people who are not only concerned about their own health but also about sustainability throughout the production chain,” says Managing Director Ulrike Claus. “They want to know that the food they eat was ethically produced with regard to the environment and the people in the supply chain. They are usually happy to pay a little more for ethical products.”
The traditional image of organic food stores as being the domain of the ‘socks and sandals’ brigade has been steadily eroded by a constant stream of food-based trends and a greater awareness of the downside of intensive agriculture.
In a backlash to rising rates of obesity and overweight, and the associated crisis in the health service, people are trying to eat themselves to a healthier lifestyle. Fashionable superfoods such as chia seeds and goji berries are already mainstream fixtures but first appeared in health food outlets before being picked up on by the media.
“These kinds of items start off as niche products which could only be found in specialist stores,” says Ms. Claus. “As they were trumpeted as the next superfood, they become more ubiquitous. Our challenge is to identify the next trend before it arrives and ensure that our customers can source it from us.”
The company has seen many trends come and go. “I would say that veganism has now peaked after being a key trend over the past few years,” says Ms. Claus. “Widely reported scandals surrounding intensive animal farming pushed a lot of people to experiment with a vegan diet, but the number of new converts is now fairly stable. Instead, clean eating and the raw food trend are the current buzzwords influencing the market.”
Clean eating is a difficult trend to pin down and define but is generally interpreted as a rejection of highly processed, high sugar foods and diets featuring lots of red meat and carbohydrates, and an embracing of so-called superfoods and a more considered approach to eating.
It distills many of the messages of the health food movement but packages them up as an Instagram-friendly lifestyle choice. “Many of the food trends that are just now being picked up on by other wholesalers we have been stocking and supplying for years,” says Ms. Claus. “With over 21,000 individual lines in our product range, we have one of the most comprehensive portfolios in the sector.”
The majority of products stocked by Claus are produced in accordance with organic farming principles, even if they are not certified as such. Many conform to the even more stringent standards of certifying bodies such as Demeter and Bioland.
The company has also been stocking products for people on special diets, such as glutenfree and lactose-free products, long before the free-from trend took off. “We are always on the lookout for innovative, high-quality products that can enrich our customers’ businesses,” says Ms. Claus. “We source products from around the world and are helped in this by our international subsidiaries in France and Switzerland.”
Many of the branded products carried by Claus Reformwaren Service Team are distributed under exclusive license. The in-house brand Pural was established in France and still makes the majority of its sales there, but it is distributed in several different countries.
The company is active throughout the German-speaking countries and France, and is enjoying strong growth in its export markets, which currently account for half of its 180 million EUR annual turnover. Claus has been increasingly targeting the growing natural food and health food segment as there is a natural overlap with its traditional market.
With its mature distribution apparatus, the company can guarantee rapid deliveries and reliable supplies. In addition to its headquarters and warehouse in Baden-Baden, the company has distribution hubs in Dortmund and Fuerstenfeldbrueck near Munich, and its own fleet of delivery vehicles.
Offices in Switzerland and France serve the local markets. “We also cooperate with wholesalers in Portugal and Sweden to serve the Southern European and Scandinavian markets, respectively,” says Ms. Claus. “Serving the health food market is sometimes a challenge in that owners of businesses in this sector sometimes reject modern communication technology just as vehemently as they reject eating meat. My job brings me into daily contact with very interesting people.”
It is very much a family business employing 400 people. Ms. Claus’s parents Heinz and Sonja Claus founded the wholesale division of the company and are still active in the business, as are her husband, sister and brother-in-law, alongside several of her cousins. Following a major fire that destroyed the company premises in 2010, the past seven years have seen phenomenal growth.
“It is encouraging to us that more people are thinking about where their food comes from, and we hope this particular trend will continue,” Ms. Claus concludes.