The leading brand in Italy in the production and distribution of organic products continues its relentless expansion, investing in the widespread increase of its sales points and giving a new impulse to online sales.
The first supermarket entirely dedicated to organics opened in Italy in 1993 with the name ‘Naturalia’. Two years later, the first NaturaSì store opened its doors in Milan, followed by others all throughout Italy, part of which are under franchising. With the merger with Ecor in 2009, the EcorNaturaSì brand was created and has established itself nationally in the production and distribution of organic foods until it became recognized as a leader. In the wake of the positive trend of the sector’s organic sales, EcorNaturaSì continues to increase its turnover and, hand in hand, is investing to offer greater quality and ensuring food safety to its consumers, aiming at improving the quality/price ratio of its products.
Organic food in Italy
Recent Ismea-Nielsen data confirms that the organic sector is continuing its positive trend with an increase in sales that interests all distribution channels (Super, Iper, Speciality, free service and Discount Stores). This figure is quite significant when compared with the – 1.2% registered by mainstream consumption. The increase in sales is the result of a growing awareness and attitude towards organic food that involves more and more consumers. The collected data shows, in fact, that more than 19 million Italian households have bought organics in 2016 and that 13 million of these have consumed natural products at least once a week. It is a scenario that confirms the numbers achieved by the EcorNaturasì Group, which ended 2015 with a turnover of 330 million Euros and a network of over 100 sales points in continuous expansion.
NaturaSì caters to a consumer profile that is generally of a medium-high socio-economic level, relatively young, well educated, and conscious but critical of additional costs. The motivations that drive the purchases are almost totally health related despite numerous national and international studies have illustrated that there are no significant nutritional differences between organic and traditional products. Purposes such as environmental protection or solidarity with farmers are almost nonexistent.
The supermarket, orderly and welcoming, organized by topic areas with a fruit and vegetable dedicated island and a well-supplied gastronomy, has about 4,000 references between food, body care, and household products. The choice of the assortment arrangement is based on the mission that distinguishes the store sign: to offer customers a range of cultivated products according to organic and biodynamic agricultural methods. In virtue of this, NaturaSì entered into an accord with about 300 farms scattered throughout the peninsula, which supply it with a full range of fresh produce (fruit, vegetables, and dairy products) and a wide range of handmade beers and wines. Therefore, it is easy to understand why the process of the identification of suppliers is of strategic importance for the chain. By favoring companies that can provide short chain products, especially for the fruit and vegetable category, NaturaSì can guarantee its customers the highest degree of freshness and seasonality.
In 2014 NaturaSì launched its own online sales site, and recently signed an agreement with Amazon for the home delivery of fresh produce within a few hours of orders placed. With the presence of its products on Amazon, NaturaSì wants to dedicate itself to the conquest of customers residing in areas not yet covered by the physical sales network. Therefore, by virtue of a commercial strategy that calls for a constant expansion of the sales points network and investments for increases in web sales, the future of the chain appears brighter than ever.
To carry out our Category analysis we visited two NaturaSì sales points, the one in Viale della Repubblica in Bologna and the one Via Porrettana in Casalecchio di Reno (BO). In both supermarkets, it immediately became evident that, at the design and construction stage, particular attention was given to environmental sustainability. In the stores, in fact, we found the walls and the ceiling colored with natural dyes of green and orange, energy saving lamps that provide general lighting and shopping baskets made of recycled PET. Every detail had been researched and studied to place the consumer at ease during the shopping experience, helping him/her move through the various departments. The in-store communication, recently revisited, transmits the characteristics of the chain in the retail landscape and founding spirit of the company: freshness, authenticity, and vocation for the good and healthy.
The strength of the assortment, composed of certified and organic references, allows it to thoroughly cover any customer needs: fresh products (bread, dairy products, fresh meats, cured meats and fish); frozen (ice cream, vegetables, fish); breakfast foods (sweet and savory baked goods, jams, spreads, granola, snacks) and lunch and dinner (pasta, condiments, cereals and legumes, flour, macrobiotic products); gluten-free products and products for the most common food intolerances; drinks (fruit juices and vegetable drinks, wines, beers). In the corner dedicated to early childhood, there are products for the care and growth of infants such as farinas, baby food, biodegradable wipes and diapers. The herbal/cosmetics area for the care and beauty of the body, offers natural products, selected through a control system, created exclusively from vegetable emulsifiers with active principles and natural (or of natural origin) surfactants.
The fruit and vegetable counter is the calling card of organic stores, for it is the only department where the consumer can examine and touch the true quality of organically grown products. Intrigued by the presence of numerous negative comments on the Internet on the freshness of the produce section of different sales points, during our visit to the Casalecchio di Reno store, we focused mainly on this corner. The exhibition layout, with its main fruit and vegetable products on display in an attractive and functional manner appeared very attractive to us. However, we did find shortcomings in the management of the exhibition space due to the presence, in the vicinity, of many promotional areas.
The standardization of sales points, which facilitates the definition of the product areas, is an important aspect of communication in a distribution chain. In the case of NaturaSì, due to the diversification of the sales network, including owned and franchised sales points, the display is illustrated on different shelves and the communication is not consistent with all the sales points.
In line with the trend of recent years, even NaturaSì has invested in the realization of private label products, which now account for 20% of its total turnover. The main brands are currently three: Ecor, a line that includes short chain products, Alimenti Ritrovati which aims to enhance biodiversity through the rediscovery of ancient varieties of cereals and legumes, and the Più Bene line, created for those who have the need to follow special diets due to allergies, intolerances and celiac disease. Therefore, similar to what happens in traditional supermarkets, even a NaturaSì customer can choose whether to buy products of leading brands or commercial brands at lower prices.
From the data collected, NaturaSì can be defined as a Mass Retail Channel with an organic label which, through a successful commercial policy, has managed to intercept the demand from a class of consumers particularly attentive to their well-being and willing to spend more for the purchase of valuable and certified products. After significantly contributing to the growth of organics in Italy, NaturaSì has a new challenge to take on: to level out the sales network while improving some aspects of visual merchandising and to develop a strategy to make organic products less exclusive in order to expand its customer base.