Ceres Organics' organic growth

Ceres Organics, New Zealand’s largest organic food brand, has experienced huge growth in the last five years in New Zealand in Australia, and is beginning to explore the burgeoning markets for organics in Asia and South America. We talk to managing director Noel Josephson about the rise of organic food and the company’s plans for the future.

Food has changed a lot in the last decade. Inspired by increasing suspicion towards industrialised, processed foods, an increasing number of consumers are buying food that is free from synthetic fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides. And Ceres Organics, New Zealand’s largest organic food brand is reaping the benefits of what managing director Noel Josephson sees as part of a wider societal change of people “moving closer to nature.”

“I think it's a reaction to the world becoming more focussed on technology,” he says. “There's something saying to people, ‘Let's not forget about nature’. The problems of the world are all interlinked. Environmental problems, social problems, economic problems, they're all interlinked and you can't leave nature out of the equation.

“So people are changing their eating habits – they want natural and they want healthy – low sodium, low fat, low sugar – and they want fair trade. And you can put organics at the apex of it all. Organics has spearheaded that change in people's habits and food preferences.”

Josephson says the company has had average increases in growth of around 20% for the past thirty years since it was established, but the last five have seen exponential growth. Ceres is the leading certified organic distributor in Australia, where NZTE says there has been 50% growth in the production and consumption of organic produce in the last two years and an annual growth in demand of between 10-30%.

“While the general food sector has crawled along reporting one to two per cent annual growth, the demand for organic food has catapulted since about 2009 as consumers become more aware of what’s in their food, and what they don’t want in their food.”

Originally started as an organic vege co-op working out of a garage (including four of the current directors of Ceres), Ceres now employs 150 people and leads the organics market in New Zealand with distribution across major supermarkets, health food and organics stores. “It's been gathering pace all along,” Josephson says. “The visionaries of organics were in the early 20th century, and began working into a broader population in the 60s and the 70s and it's just gained momentum since. By the 90s it became fashionable and now it's mainstream."

Josephson sees those markets as the next frontier of organics. "Organics is spreading across the world,” he says. “Europe and North America have lead the way and we're following and places like Asia and South America are coming on behind us, but coming along rapidly." Ceres now invests in an organic commodity trading company in South America and an organic rice snack company in Asia.

But Josephson says that the company's success is not just on the back on the growth of the industry: “Our success is not built on organics alone, it's built on the people in the company, the way it's organised and run, and the space we give to people to bring their ideas into the company. Everybody has something to contribute so you've got to create an organisation where people can put their ideas in, where they can be worked with, and yet retain an organisational structure. But it really moves forwards because lots of people are putting their ideas in.”

Image: Rupal Hira