Renee Elliott opened her first organic shop in Westbourne Grove, London in 1995, inspired by a concept she had seen in the United States.

In spite of the difficulties experienced during the first years of operation, she set about making the organic concept work. Today, with six organic stores around the city and 200 employees, Planet Organic is considered London’s number one organic retailer. It is also the UK’s largest certified organic retailer.

“Planet Organic has played its part shaping and changing the food culture in England as we’ve raised awareness about organic food and farming, and fought against genetically modified foods,” Renee says. “In the beginning, I had two goals, to make organic mainstream and to change food retailing.”

Local sourcing is a major priority and the retailer is driven by its belief in ethical and sustainable farming and places great emphasis on the provenance of all its products.

“We like to source from ethical producers and to have knowledge of the traceability of all ingredients and produce,” says Anthony Rickards Senior Buyer, Branded Foods & Private Label, adding that organic standards enable traceability, and with artisan producers the retailer ensures that the methods they use meet its high criteria.

This also involves keeping in regular contact with suppliers and attending trade shows to find the best new products and create first class recipes to bring to customers at all the stores.

The sourcing policy encompasses only organic fresh fruit and vegetables, choosing seasonal British produce first, only organic meat, and all fresh meat is Soil Association certified and British. Fairtrade products are offered when available (bananas are always Fairtrade).

Only sustainable fresh fish is sourced, and all from British waters, either organically farmed or caught by day boats off the North Cornish coast.

Only organic fresh bread and patisserie products are stocked, all from London bakers, while only Soil Association organic, British, free-range eggs are stocked.

“Planet Organic does sell products shipped from all over the world, but will always choose to buy as locally as possible. “Until recently, there were three buyers and one assistant on the team, but in the last year the team has doubled in size as we prepare to ramp up our store numbers,” Mr Rickards says. Product categories are divided into Private Label, Grocery, Chilled & Frozen, Prepared Foods, and Health & Bodycare, he says.

A one-stop shop for organic foods

Planet Organic also provides a great range of fresh foods made in the store to eat at the cafe or to go, along with vitamins, minerals and supplements, and natural bodycare products.

“Because we are the specialist, we have always had the best range of wholegrains, superfoods, complex carbohydrate sweeteners, gluten-free, wheat-free, yeast-free, no added sugar foods for every meal through your day from breakfast to lunch, snacking and supper,” the retailer says.

Planet Organic uses its website, www.planetorganic.com, for on-line ordering and deliveries throughout the UK and Europe.

The organic retailer created the first sustainable fish counter, and also launched with an organic juice bar that offered the first organic green juices in Britain.

It was also the first London retailer to stop using plastic bags and replace them with biodegradable non-GMO corn bags and didn’t have to remove GMO ingredients from own-label products because it said no from day one.

“Planet Organic trades strongly in special dietary needs and has a spectacular raw and superfoods section, and a wide range of gluten free, vegan & living foods,” Mr Rickards adds.

He explains that in response to the recession, the conventional supermarkets dropped many organic and premium lines in favour of cheap own-label non-organic goods. “This of course played into our favour and we have enjoyed double-digit, like-for-like growth throughout the recession,” he says.

Recent trends at the major UK natural and organic fair NOPE have included a boom for gluten free products, with many organic baking or cooking mixes available.

Mr Rickards says Planet Organic is big in wholegrains and if customers love making bread. “We don’t just have a few bags of organic flour on the shelf; we have everything conceivable from quinoa to teff and everything in-between,” he says.

The retailer sells more wholegrain spelt pasta than durum wheat pasta and offers varieties made from buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, sprouted grains and more.

“People aren’t buying gluten free exclusively for allergy and digestive concerns, it’s now about the high nutritional value we can enjoy from the new generation of gluten free foods,” Mr Rickards says. “It’s great to see that the gluten free market has moved on from the starchy and bland to the tasty and innovative: sprouted quinoa and kale pasta? Now that’s exciting food.