Greenhouse Pioneer: Catherine Fookes, Organic Trade Board

On the morning of 15th June Wake Up To Organic events will be hosted across the UK to celebrate local, organic food. We spoke to Catherine Fookes from the Organic Trade Board, as they gear up for their big event on Wednesday.

The word is spreading about organic it’s better for the environment, animal welfare and for your health, but getting people to change their shopping habits can be a challenge.

Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about the Organic Trade Board – what’s your mission?
To grow sales of organic food and drink and also explains the benefits of organic to UK consumers.

What motivates you?
Work wise it’s about enabling our Organic Trade Board members to thrive in the challenging grocery market. Back in 2009 it was a really tough year with the recession hitting our members hard but we responded quickly and our marketing campaigns have gone from strength to strength.

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?
I’m loving working on Wake Up to Organic! It has the potential to reach so many people. This is the second year and it’s growing all the time. Fantastic independent stores get to shout about their organic products and I love it because it’s so practical and you can feel the benefit of it at the grass roots level. We have over 70 stores across the UK getting involved on Wednesday 15 June, who will be offering a free organic breakfast, all with the aim to show consumers that it’s easy to switch to organic for breakfast and it can be affordable.

Wake Up To Organic - organic trade

What is your greatest achievement to date?
We were so proud of raising significant funding from the EU and from industry to support big marketing campaigns to promote organic. Lots of people said we’d never do it but we stuck to our guns and raised approximately £5 million over 6 years, which was amazing. Twice we were successful in getting our EU funding applications approved and it’s really helped to turn around the organic market.

What are the challenges you face?
Lots of skepticism and people saying we wouldn’t get anywhere with the EU because it’s too bureaucratic. We’re also up against huge marketing spend from non-organic food businesses. For a long time, retailers were not keen to put organic on the shelf, but as the market the grows they are becoming happier to do so.

When I buy food for my family, I choose organic because I know it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides which I know must be better for us. Some people want to see the science of it and recent studies showing the scientific benefits to health when you choose organic have really helped, however, price is still the biggest barrier to buying organic, our job is to remind to customers that it’s worth it and we do it by telling the stories behind the food and our organic producers. We’ve recently been working with young popular bloggers like Madeline Shaw to get that message out. If we can show the value of organic, consumers will be prepared to buy more. Price is a fact but it doesn’t have to be an issue. So there have been lots of challenges to overcome, not least the fact that there’s never enough time in the day!

Organic Trade Board - AppleWhere do you want to take the Organic Trade Board next?
We’d like to make sure we get more funding from the EU, because that has the power to really transform our marketing campaigns. We find out in October whether we’ve been successful for our next round which would result in a campaign worth £1.7m per year. We currently have 130 members but we’d really like to grow that and do more for them.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?
Buy organic! Or, at least, buy something organic. It’s very important to say we’re not expecting people to buy everything organic and be really regimental about it, because that would make it quite hard but do try a new organic product or meal. Perhaps start by committing to buying organic fruit, veg and milk – when my children were young, that’s what I focused on to start with.

If you were Prime Minister/President for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?
If I was prime minister and I had a magic wand, I would eradicate poverty, I believe that’s more important than anything else.

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?
I came across Groovy Food’s range the other day and loved their branding and their range of coconut oils. I’d also love to see more organic products in the chiller aisles in supermarkets, so that we can buy semi-prepared meals that are organic and fresh, and you don’t have to worry about additives, pesticide residues etc. It is not something I do a lot of, as I mainly cook from scratch, but I’d love to have the option of thinking “I’d like a curry” and a bundle of fully organic ingredients was available for me to buy easily and altogether on an aisle end in a supermarket.

silent springCan you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?
I’d recommend these two books: Fast Food Nation by Erich Schlosser and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?
Either the sound of my kids chatting or Radio 4. I especially like to catch up with Desert Island Discs or Women’s Hour.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Lots of people have said this to me over the years, including my stepfather who sadly passed away when I was younger, and it’s so important: you can do anything you want to achieve in life. Don’t ever think you can’t do something, just go for it. Don’t ever limit yourself.

We all have a tendency to put things off but we all have areas in which we want to improve. Sometimes it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by something, but it’s easy when you break it down into manageable pieces. So my second piece of great advice: do something small every day. If you want to progress one area of your expertise, just do something towards that goal every day, no matter how small or trivial it might seem: calling someone up for advise, reading up something or booking a training scheme, it all counts.

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?
I met Vandana Shiva in India, she was so inspiring. She was an early anti-GM pioneer and gave a voice to lots of disadvantaged women in India. I’d also say Rachel Carson, who was really one of the founders of the organic movement and foresaw a lot of worrying things. Finally, I’ll mention Al Gore who has done such an amazing job bringing climate change to the world’s attention.