有機商店:販賣真情與健康

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2012 / 9月

文‧陳歆怡 圖‧莊坤儒


不論你是否為常客,一定也觀察到,台灣的有機商店近年如便利商店般,逐步深入大城小鄉,同時,企業界紛紛投資既有的有機商店品牌,也讓許多店鋪改頭換面、充滿時尚感。

不分國內外,有機食品市場逐年擴大,與人們對食品安全與環境保育的覺醒有關,也受到樂活養生風氣的帶動。

有機如何成為一門好生意?


「你可能不相信,我自己親自嘗試斷食療法後,4個月內瘦了7公斤,而且精神、體力比以前都好。我們店裡有參考書、還有講座可以詳細介紹……」

「一般女性上班族容易有便秘的毛病,其實這跟人類從生食翻轉為熟食的飲食方式有關,因為食物煮熟就失去原本的活性。酵素就是用生物科技來補充活性,這款產品的素材都是提煉自台灣本地的優良農產,不妨試試。」

整潔明亮、貨架寬敞、服務親切的新一代有機店鋪,不只販賣有機蔬果、健康食品、環保用品,有些還提供餐飲,舉辦講座、讀書會、烹飪教學,甚至聘請營養師做諮詢。它們的共通點都是訴求健康、安心、生機、環保。

從小眾起家

台灣的有機店為什麼會越來越蓬勃?創業者的動力何在?

回首過去,有機農業發韌於1990年代,最早是由關懷生態的民間團體與農友自發形成的運動,他們關心農業生產,也重視生活和諧及生態平衡。只是,早年「有機」概念尚未成熟,有機農產品產量少,多靠農場宅配或直銷,經營不易。

1990年代中期起,逐漸由有心人發展出有機專賣店。根據北美有機貿易協會的調查報告顯示,至2004年時,台灣已有約1,000家有機/食品專賣店,是亞洲國家中除日本之外發展最快速的地區。

嶺東科技大學行管系講師董國昌指出,以經營/創辦者的特色來看,有機商店的風格有幾種:「醫師型」以其專業來建立與客戶的信任感;「宗師型」以宗教信仰為號召,能集合眾多志工加入經營,形成特殊營運策略;「有機養生大師型」與「重症患者型」,則是以親身體驗取信於人,也樂於分享投入有機生活的收穫;「有心人士型」則泛指透過行銷手法或是加強服務的方式,強化經營優勢。

誠信、互助的里仁精神

成立於1998年、以利他精神為導向的里仁公司,是宗教引領前進的最佳範例。

里仁的創立與慈心基金會同源,緣起於日常法師的悲願。話說曾在大中華地區與美國弘法的日常法師,早年在美國曾接觸有機農業,對慣行農法大量使用農藥的積弊,深感傷害了眾生;某次有位弟子要捐地做道場,他於是建議將土地改種有機以護生,並鼓勵眾人觀摩、推廣。漸漸地響應的弟子多了,有人樂當農夫,有人出國考察,有人負責培訓義工,1997年後,順勢成立慈心基金會與里仁公司。

慈心基金會執行長蘇慕容猶記,初期推廣有機大不易,主要是農友的土地還沒養好,技術也不足,栽培過程耗時費工,且產量低、賣相差,靠著慈心及里仁義工相知相惜,並以實際購買支持,才能挺過來。

經過幾年努力,里仁販售的有機蔬果質量俱佳,且有專業的慈心基金會做後盾,吸引更多農友合作,消費者對里仁也有了一份「平實、誠信」的認同感,業績才逐年蒸蒸日上。

此外,里仁始終積極開發以有機素材為原料的加工食品、日常用品,以滿足消費者多樣的需求。舉例而言,有機稻米是台灣有機農產的大宗,有機稻田對於生態平衡也貢獻良多,卻容易因一般米盛產而滯銷;里仁為了推廣有機與扶持農友,特別商請食品廠研發各種米麵包、米饅頭、米果、沖泡穀粉等加工品。

里仁從原本僅有北、中、南3處簡易賣場,成長至今擁有87家直營門市,資本額1億元,合作的有機農場、食品及環保用品廠商超過600家,產品超過千種(且堅持不賣保健產品),體質穩健。里仁總經理李妙玲表示,里仁以「社會企業」的模式經營,「凡事只問盡力付出,讓生產者、經銷者、消費者成為互助互信的生命共同體,反而能成功。」

養生大師親出馬

成立於1999年、如今已是擁有七十多家直營及加盟店的老品牌「無毒的家」,創辦人王康裕可說是融合「醫師型」與「有機養生大師型」的翹楚。

目前退居幕後擔任教育總監的他,畢業自台北醫學院藥學系,曾是藥商,中年後健康亮起紅燈,開始認真嘗試生機飲食。有藥學基礎且經常出國的他,特別熱中於以科學精神鑽研各國健康保健療法,例如蔬菜汁斷食法、自然粗食派等,他都自行找到對應的產品並研發相關餐食,翻譯成中文,分享給更多消費者。

無毒的家事業處協理林峰成不諱言,無毒的家草創時期的客人常為解決病痛而來,其中不乏癌症患者;隨著養生樂活風氣漸開,近年無毒的家積極在每家店推動定期的烹飪課及養生講座,就是希望持續拓展客層,讓預防保健的觀念深植人心。

不同於無毒的家從一開始就走理論路線且有企業主投資,1994年成立的「綠色小鎮」,原本小本經營,販售各種天然環保用品,知名度不高。直到2006年,生技業者以2億元買下,5年來由16家快速成長至近百家直營與加盟店,幕後推手是出任董事長、具行銷長才的林耿宏。

林耿宏自豪店內1,500種產品中,有8成產品的原物料是本地生產的有機、無毒農產,從單價35元的蔬菜到數千元的保健品都有,希望為有機農業發展盡棉薄之力。

驗證機制促成產業起飛

宜蘭大學應用經濟與管理學系教授黃璋如指出,從國外經驗可知,有機相關產業成功的關鍵,是必須建立公正的驗證機制與有機標章,讓消費者產生信賴。

最早一批披荊斬棘的有機專賣店,都經歷過政府有機法規闕如,必須自己替產品品質把關的階段,當時市場上假有機產品常自我標榜、魚目混珠,嚴重打擊消費者信心。直到2007年通過《農產品生產及驗證管理法》,兩年後標章與查驗制度正式上路,大大推動有機產業進一步發展。

根據農委會統計,截至2011底,已通過驗證的有機農業面積為5,015公頃,以水稻、蔬菜為主,果樹、茶樹次之,有機驗證合格農戶2,300戶,且以每年15%的幅度成長,前景可期。

值得嘉許的是,自從農委會4年前對有機農產品(含國產與進口、初級與加工)執行嚴格查驗,有機農產品的農藥檢出率,已從過去令人詬病的1成下降到千分之6,代表許多農地已經從過去慣行農法的餘毒中回復,也傳達農友及驗證機構的用心。

與制度完備相輔相成,有機連鎖店新一波成長力道強勁。《2012年台灣連鎖店年鑑》指出,前5大有機專賣店分別是聖德科斯、綠色小鎮、里仁、無毒的家、棉花田;除了里仁外,其餘4大有機連鎖店都由大企業入股或購併。

迷思1:有機比例偏低?

值得討論的是,企業入主是否改變了這些品牌原本的管理模式與體質?

以創立於1992年的「棉花田」為例,創辦人翁湘淳被公認為推廣生機飲食不遺餘力的「感性領導者」,對內不談營運目標,而強調感情、分享、關懷、服務、體驗式行銷等經營理念。

2008年潤泰集團旗下的中天生技購併棉花田後,一方面積極增資、展店,另方面用八、九個月的時間跟原團隊與組織架構「磨合」,希望在轉向績效管理的同時,仍保有棉花田原本的清新與人味。

只是,當企業紛紛入主有機連鎖事業,也引來不少對有機內涵走調的質疑。

今年8月,《康健》雜誌就調查指出,一般有機專賣店的商品占比,生鮮約占20%、保健品15~20%、沖泡類25%、其他(乾貨、加工品、器具等)占30%,有機商品平均約占2~3成。「原來『有機店裡賣的都是有機商品』,只是消費者一廂情願的想像。」此外,《康健》也指出,有機店對於有機概念的推廣雖功不可沒,但店員常過度推銷高價的保健食品,有誤導消費者之嫌。

對此,學者們多表示「為求生存,可以理解」。董國昌指出,有機店內的全有機產品以生鮮蔬果為大宗,由於單價低、利潤少,且保存期短、耗損大,不會進貨太多,「單店或連鎖業者都必須努力截長補短,才能活下來。」

黃璋如指出,國外有機專賣店的生鮮產品比例也約占2~3成,「只看重生鮮,是台灣特有的迷思,也才會對有機店失望。」黃璋如分析,台灣有機產業架構目前最缺乏的環節有二:一是農政單位長期冷落有機畜產,消費者也苦於買不到有機畜產,「畜產早該回歸農漁牧綜合經營,以促進有機循環,也符合環保及動物福利概念。」

其次,從有機產業的長遠發展來看,政府應該大力輔導有機加工業,例如市場需求龐大的豆類加工品、時興的花草茶等,才能替有機產品保值與增值,也不必讓進口加工品專美於前。

迷思2:有機很貴?

另一個迷思是:有機蔬菜價格太貴、也不合理?

黃璋如在1999年曾研究發現,台灣有機蔬菜的價格偏高,約為一般蔬菜價格的兩倍以上,當時歐洲國家有機與一般菜價的價差則在1.2~2倍之間。她認為主要原因是台灣有機農業發展較晚,生產技術與行銷管理都尚未成熟,產量也不穩定,因此售價相對較高。

但今日局面已然改觀。目前專賣店內有機蔬菜每包(以250g計)售價約為35~45元,是農友、通路都有合理利潤,且在消費者可接受的範圍。黃璋如表示,目前有機菜價相對一般蔬果反而穩定,原因是,仰賴化肥的慣行農法成本逐年攀升,其次,國內有機栽培技術提升,且部分是以設施栽培,較不易隨天災或颱風等因素暴漲。

值得關注的是,台灣有機通路近年也已悄悄進駐超市、量販店。這些大型通路挾規模經濟的優勢,可以做到物美價廉、種類多樣,令專賣店都屏息觀察。

今年6月起,全聯超市與有機農場契作,在全台400家門市同步販售有機蔬菜,均一價每包29元,上市以來銷量從每周4萬包上升至單日可賣1萬包。「我們希望用通路優勢輔助有機農友計畫性生產,契作價格是全聯與農友各退一步,希望做到親民與推廣,」全聯公關陳琇姍說。

期待遍地開花

「超市主動販售有機產品,對有機產業是好事,就像農夫市集遍地開花一樣,讓更多人有機會親近有機。」黃璋如指出,在發展有機產業超過半世紀的歐洲,各國有機通路的演進軌跡都是:從農場直銷、專賣店、再到超市興起。管道的多元蓬勃,也帶動有機消費人口持續成長。

「有機店不必擔心超市競爭,自營店也不用跟連鎖店拚比,因為有機專賣店向來以體貼而細膩的服務取勝,強調人性化與細水長流,更能網羅社區型的忠誠客戶。」

董國昌點出,目前有機店看似蓬勃,實則單店或加盟主「多數仍靠熱情與動員親友人力苦撐,叫好不叫坐,」企業之所以投入有機連鎖事業,看中的也是遠景,目前只能說是投資階段,是靠雄厚財力與運用加盟來降低經營成本與風險。

台灣有機食農遊藝教育推廣協會名譽理事長李美雲則認為,人們應該珍視價格背後蘊含的食品安全與環境保育價值,也可逐漸讓自己的生活方式反璞歸真,就不需仰賴過度膨風的保健食品。也因此,她與協會夥伴積極走入社區,用生活化的方式推廣飲食與環境教育,相信消費者的力量與價值選擇才是通路的依歸。

回歸初衷,有機專賣店原本就是講情重義、積極創新的社會企業,你我都可以用「購買」來守護大地、守護健康,也鼓勵優質好店的成長。

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EN

Organic Stores: Selling Health and Good Feeling

Chen Hsin-yi /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Chris Nelson

Whether or not you’re a regular customer, you’ve surely noticed that organic specialty stores are becoming almost as ubiquitous as convenience stores in Taiwan’s cities and towns. At the same time, the business world has been investing in existing organic store brands, inspiring many stores to change their appearances by adding a sense of style.

The organic foods market is expanding yearly both in Taiwan and abroad, linked to growing popular awareness of food safety and environmental stewardship, and driven by the desire for healthy living.

So, how does one turn organics into good business?


This new generation of organic stores—tidy, brightly lit, well stocked and offering cordial service—sells more than just organic produce, health foods and environmentally friendly products. Some also provide ready-made meals, host seminars, book clubs and cooking classes, and even have nutritionists on staff to give advice. Their commonality lies in their pursuit of health, vitality, peace of mind, and a better environment.

Starting out small

Why are Taiwan’s organic stores growing so vigorously? And what are the motives of the entrepreneurs?

In Taiwan, modern organic farming found its start in the 1990s. In the early stages, it was a movement formed by civic organizations and farmers concerned about the environment. They cared about agricultural production, and stressed harmonious living as well as ecological balance. Nevertheless, the idea of “organics” had not yet matured at that time; lower yields and greater reliance on farm-to-market delivery and direct sales made it a hard business to run.

In the mid-1990s, some interested parties started opening organic specialty stores. A study by the Organic Trade Association shows that by 2004, there were around 1,000 organic and health food stores in Taiwan, making it the fastest developing Asian country, next to Japan, in this respect.

Dong Guo­chang, marketing management lecturer at Ling Tung University, notes that organic stores are run by several different kinds of people. Some are run by doctors, who apply their medical expertise to build customers’ trust. Others are run by religious leaders, who make use of their spiritual appeal to call upon volunteers to join in on the operations, creating a special kind of business strategy. Still others are run by organic health gurus and survivors of grave illnesses, who call upon their personal experience to gain people’s trust, gladly sharing the results of their organic lifestyles. Finally, there are the enthusiasts, who seek competitive advantage through marketing savvy and enhanced services.

Leezen: Honesty and helpfulness

Lee­zen Co., founded in 1998 on a spirit of altruism, is the epitome of a religious-based organic store.

Lee­zen sprang from the same source as Tse-Xin Organic Agricultural Foundation (TOAF): both were inspired by Dharma Master Ri­chang (1929–2004). It’s said that the master came into contact with organic farming while preaching in the United States, and recognized it as a good alternative to conventional farming’s long-standing harmful practice of pesticide use. One time, when a disciple was thinking of donating land to build a holy site, Master Ri­chang suggested using this land for organic farming in order to save the lives of animals, and encourage others to learn from the example and spread the word. Gradually, the number of his followers increased, some eager to farm, others going overseas to learn more, and still others in charge of training volunteers. TOAF was founded in 1997, followed by Lee­zen the next year.

TOAF CEO Su Muh-rong remembers that it wasn’t easy to promote organics at first. Mainly, the farmers’ land hadn’t been properly maintained, the skill base was inadequate, the growing process was labor intensive and time consuming, and sales and yields were poor. But they were finally able to get on their feet thanks to the joint efforts of TOAF and Lee­zen volunteers as well as the support of sales.

Over several years of hard work, the organic produce sold by Lee­zen increased in quality and quantity, and with TOAF as a backer they drew in more cooperation with farmers. Consumers identified with Lee­zen’s simplicity and honesty, and sales began showing significant annual growth.

From the very start, Lee­zen has developed processed foods and household products using organic ingredients as raw materials to meet the varied needs of consumers. For instance, organic paddy rice is a mainstay among organic foods in Taiwan, and organic rice fields contribute a lot to ecological balance. But the lower price of conventionally farmed rice is a barrier to sales. To promote organics and support farmers, Lee­zen has dealt with food companies to develop rice-based processed goods including breads, buns, rice crackers, and hot cereals.

Lee­zen has grown from three outlets (one each in northern, central and southern Taiwan) into a robust company with 87 retail stores, more than 1,000 products, and capital of over NT$100 million. Lee­zen’s president Lee Miao-ling says that the company is run according to a social enterprise model: “Everything is done from the heart, with producers, sellers and consumers forming a living community that believes in and helps each other. This has brought success.”

A health guru takes action

Yogi House International has over 70 regular chain and franchise stores. It was founded in 1999 by Wang ­Kangyu, who was in the pharmaceuticals business and has become an organic health guru.

Wang, who now serves behind the scenes as education director, graduated in pharmacy from Tai­pei Medical University. During his career in pharmaceuticals, he began suffering health problems in middle age, and went on an organic food diet. With a foundation in pharmacy and often traveling abroad, he was especially fond of the science of healthcare regimens found in different countries, such as vegetable juice fasting and macrobiotic diets. He sought out the requisite products, developed meals, and translated the recipes into Chinese to share with consumers.

Unlike Yogi House International, which has followed a theoretical path from the start and enjoyed the investment of a captain of industry, Earthlife, founded in 1994, was originally a small-cap business selling natural eco-friendly products, and was not very famous. Then in 2006, a biotech firm bought it for NT$200 million, and in five years it grew from 16 to nearly 100 regular chain and franchise stores. The driving force behind the scenes is chairman and marketing wiz Spencer Lin.

Lin takes pride in the fact that the raw materials of 80% of the company’s 1,500 products are locally grown, toxin-free organic produce, with prices ranging from NT$35 vegetable packages to healthcare products costing thousands of NT dollars, hoping to do something for the development of organic farming.

Certification system propels the industry

According to Huang Chang-ju, professor of applied economics at National Ilan University, we know from overseas experience that the key to success in the organics industry is the establishment of a fair certification system and an organic certification mark, to win customer trust.

The earliest pioneer organic stores saw a lack of government regulations regarding organics, so they had to verify product quality themselves. At that time, many fake organic products were touted as genuine, dealing a serious blow to consumer confidence. Then the Agricultural Production and Certification Act was passed in 2007, and two years later a certification and marking system was officially enacted. This was a boon to the development of the organics industry.

According to the Council of Agriculture, 5,015 hectares of farmland were certified for organic farming by the end of 2011, the chief crops being paddy rice and vegetables, followed by fruit and tea. Altogether there were 2,300 certified organic farms, 15% growth for the year. Good prospects indeed!

With these systems in place, organics chains saw a new wave of growth. The Taiwan Chain Store Almanac 2012 shows that the top five organic specialty stores are Santa Cruz, Earthlife, Lee­zen, Yogi House International, and Cotton Land. All but Lee­zen have been bought by or merged with major corporations.

Are they all organic?

But when big companies buy organic product chains, this elicits many doubts about the proportion of organic products in these stores.

A study published in Common Health magazine in August 2012 shows that in the average organic specialty store, fresh produce makes up 20% of sales, healthcare products 15% to 20%, infused beverages 25%, and other products (dry goods, processed goods, utensils and so forth) 30%, and that organic products account for an average of 20% to 30% of overall sales. “The idea that organic stores sell nothing but organic products is just wishful thinking on the part of consumers,” the study says. In addition, Common Health states that though organic stores do contribute to the spread of the organic concept, sales clerks often oversell health foods, misleading consumers by overestimating their effects.

In response, scholars say that this is understandable if they wish to survive. Dong Guo­chang says that fresh produce makes up the mainstay of organic products in these stores; thus, because of low unit prices, small profits and short shelf lives, they have to be careful not to stock too much of it: “Independent and chain store operators need to make up for these shortcomings in other ways in order to survive,” he says.

Huang Chang-ju notes that the proportion of fresh produce in organic stores overseas averages about 20% to 30% as well: “A heavy concentration on fruit and vegetables is a particular feature of the organics movement in Taiwan, and that very overemphasis has led to disappointment in organic stores.” According to Huang’s analysis, Taiwan’s organic framework is currently lacking in two vital respects. The first is that organic livestock products have long been given the cold shoulder by agricultural administration authorities, leaving consumers with limited opportunities to buy them: “Livestock should be returned to traditional integrated farming methods [in which livestock and crops are raised together], which would be beneficial both environmentally [e.g. through the use of manure as organic fertilizer] and in terms of animal welfare. But the Council of Agriculture remains overly concerned with maximizing factory-style production efficiency. Thus, organic livestock products aren’t available to consumers.”

The second, considering the long-term development of the organics industry, is that the government should make efforts to foster the local organic processing industry, such as high-demand processed bean products or the increasingly popular floral and herbal teas, to sustain and increase the value of the organic products, “and not let imported processed goods monopolize the scene,” says Huang.

Are organics too pricey?

Another misconception is that organic vegetables are too expensive.

In 1999, Huang found in her research that the prices of Taiwan-grown organic vegetables were on the high side, over twice as much as for ordinary vegetables, while the price difference in European countries was between 1.2 and two times. She believes the chief reasons for the higher sales prices were that organic farming developed later in Taiwan, production technologies and marketing had not yet matured, and yields were unstable.

But today the state of affairs has changed for the better. Currently, the sales price for organic vegetables in specialty stores is between NT$35 and NT$45 per 250-gram pack, making a reasonable profit for farmers and sales channels while remaining within an acceptable price range for consumers. Huang says that current organic vegetable prices are more stable than for ordinary produce, because the costs of conventional farming, which relies on chemical fertilizers, have risen over the years, plus there have been advances in domestic organic growing techniques. Moreover, some organic produce is grown in greenhouses, and prices aren’t as susceptible to increases stemming from typhoons and other natural disasters.

It’s worth noting that organic sales channels in Taiwan have quietly reached into supermarkets and hypermarkets. These major channels enjoy an economic advantage due to scale, offering high quality and great variety at low prices, to the consternation of specialty stores.

In June, PX Mart signed a deal with an organic farm and began selling organic vegetables in 400 of its outlets all over Taiwan at NT$29 per package, with sales growing from 40,000 to 70,000 packages a week since the launch date.

Anticipating growth

“Supermarket sales of organic produce are good for the organics industry. It’s like when farmers’ markets opened up everywhere, giving more people the chance to know about organics,” says Huang. In Europe, whose organics industry developed over half a century, the sales channels evolved from direct sales by farms, to specialty stores, and then to supermarkets. The diversity of channels also drives the continued growth of the organics-consuming population.

“Organic stores don’t need to worry about competition from supermarkets, and independent stores don’t need to struggle against chains, because organic stores have always offered friendly and attentive service, stressing humanity and long-term relations: these draw in loyal customers from the community,” says Huang.

Dong Guo­chang points out that organic stores appear to be prospering, but in fact “Most of them rely on the enthusiasm and manpower of friends and relatives: people like them, but the products don’t sell well.” The reason why corporate businesses have invested in organics chains is that they’re taking a long-term view. They’re currently in the investment stage, relying on their ample financial resources and alliances to reduce operating costs and risk.

Li Meiyun, director emeritus of the Taiwan Organic Farm Educational Resources Society, believes that people should cherish the food safety and environmental value behind the prices, and gradually go back to the basics in their lifestyles. They just shouldn’t rely on health foods whose efficacy is over-exaggerated.

At the most fundamental level, organic specialty stores are friendly, highly innovative social enterprises, giving us the chance to protect our health and save the planet through our purchases, and to encourage the growth of high quality stores.

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