It was a summer job at a well-known retailer that first inspired entrepreneur Amarjit Sahota, founder of market research firm Organic Monitor, to pursue his passion for ethical and ecological causes.
“As a student in my first year at university, I worked for The Body Shop,” said Mr. Sahota. “I was treated like a full-time employee and given two hours a week to learn about Body Shop products and their activities. I was very impressed with the ethical stance and social conscious of the organization.”
The experience made a deep impression on him. “Prior to that summer, I looked at employment as a means to get money and thought business was only about profits.”
He would later found Organic Monitor, a U.K.-based market research firm and organizer of the successful Sustainability Food and Cosmetics Summits held in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
After obtaining a Master’s degree in marketing management and years in business consulting and market research studies for a variety of sectors, Mr. Sahota realized his ideal job would be market research and consulting in ethical industries.
So in 2001, he quit his job at an American consulting firm in Singapore and returned to London to start Organic Monitor.
The company faced many challenges in its first 10 years, said Mr. Sahota. Among the greatest challenges were to gain clients and distinguish OM from the competition.
Their services included market research and consulting, which were new areas for many organic/natural product companies. It was initially hard to break through, he said. “However, it has been a little easier over the last five years as we now have a loyal client base and are fairly well-established.”
The main lesson Mr. Sahota would like to impart is to be flexible and listen to clients.
“Many of the services we provide have been launched in response to us listening to our customers and responding to their business needs,” he said.
A private company, Organic Monitor has strong ethical roots and corporate ethos to assist small and medium-sized operators as well as grassroots organizations.
“We share a lot of the data and information we collect with industry organizations such as IFOAM, Ecocert, Soil Association, Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) and Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT),” said Mr. Sahota.
“We want to help our specialist industries grow, and we realize these grassroots organizations do not always have the budget for such information.”
The company’s international client base includes Bulldog (UK), Green & Black’s (UK), ProNatura (France), Melvita (France), Oatly (Sweden), Brio (Italy), AfroFair (Netherlands), Earthbound Farms (U.S.) and Burt’s Bees (U.S.).
And in the 10 years that Organic Monitor has been in business, Mr. Sahota said the organic industry has changed for the better.
“First, organic products have become mainstream,” he said. “They are now available in almost all distribution channels as conventional foods, making them accessible to all consumer groups.”
The second, he said, is high consumer awareness. “Ten years ago, consumer awareness of organic products was quite low, whereas now, it is rare to find consumers in any region who do not have a basic understanding of what organic products are.”
In the next 10 years, Mr. Sahota expects organic products continue to gain market share, reaching at least five to six per cent of all food products in Europe and North America. “In parts of Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Austria,) it has already reached this level, whilst products like organic milk have more than 20 per cent market share.”
In 2006, Mr. Sahota and his team realized the natural cosmetics area was growing significantly, and launched a conference with a trade show organizer. In 2008, the company introduced its own workshops and conferences.
Today, OM undertakes between six and eight Sustainability Food and Cosmetics Summits throughout the year in Europe and North America, and will debut in Asia this year.
OM has also helped organizations in developing countries. A few months ago, the firm looked at business openings for baobab products for some African growers.
Another project involved identifying and profiling buyers of organic and fair trade fruits for an Asian producer. And last year, OM looked at market access routes in Europe for African natural meats.
“Such projects can be more important than those we do for producers in developed countries, as they can have a direct impact on poverty alleviation,” said Mr. Sahota.
He’s proud not only of what his business has accomplished over the last decade, but also how far he’s come in his personal quest.
“I wanted to have a career where I could make a difference to the world,” he said. “I like to think I am now making that difference with Organic Monitor.”