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Date 28th October 2010 / www.procarton.com

Nature – a blueprint for success


Mag. Martina Hörmer has been responsible for Rewe Group Austria’s own brands since 2002. In this function her prime responsibility has been the management of the “Ja! Natürlich” brand, probably the most successful European brand in terms of bio-marketing (Ja! Natürlich = Yes! Naturally). In terms of packaging she is highly aware of environmental-friendly materials. This interview gives some insights on the success of “Ja! Natürlich” and a glimpse of what the future holds.

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Why is „Ja! Natürlich“ so successful?
I would like to quote Charles Darwin: “Anything which opposes nature, cannot last”. And evolution has proved him right, but it could also be the guiding principle behind “Ja! Natürlich”. It is no accident that the brand name incorporates the nature.

Where is the brand today?
“Ja! Natürlich“ is the largest own brand in the Rewe Group and plays an important role for our distribution channels Billa and Merkur. It adds to our image and fulfills a major function in terms of customer loyalty. We are now in our 16th year, were the pioneers of bio-marketing and still are. We offer some 1,000 products, covering nearly all categories. Our focus is on freshness, bread and bakery products, fruit and vegetables, eggs, meat, sausages and dairy products – in fact, everything Austrians need on a daily basis. And here it is essential to get the product quality right.

How significant is the “Ja! Natürlich” brand within the Rewe Group, the Rewe (own) brands?
Very. „Ja! Natürlich“ is the flagship of the group, the most successful brand, a true picture book brand, with only positive attributes. The brand helps to differentiate against competition, firmly positions the company in agriculture, attracts new customers to the distribution channels, adds a major contribution to customer loyalty and is highly profitable, as well as playing a major role for our company image “healthy nutrition / sustainability”. “Ja! Natürlich” spearheads sustainability, we are Austria’s sustainability brand. With the successful „Ja! Natürlich“ advertising, the company entered arenas so far reserved for other branded goods. “Ja! Natürlich” is one of the most successful brands in terms of advertising, has won all advertising awards in Austria, and is a regular prize winner for its recipes, etc.

Are there comparable brands in Europe?
Only the Swiss are highly active in the bio field. Both Migros and Coop have their own bio brands offering a wide product range. What distinguishes us,however, is the power of the brand in the country. “Ja! Natürlich” is not only number one in the bio field, it is the largest food brand in Austria, a branded product all the way. I believe that “Ja! Natürlich” is unique – awareness, image, advertising etc. are unique as far as I know.

In which markets is „Ja! Natürlich” available?
Besides Austria, in Italy under the brand name „Si! Naturalmente“.

What is the promise of „Ja! Natürlich“ foods?
We see „Ja! Natürlich“ as a premium pleasure brand, where consumers buy a little bit of luxury for their daily life. And we offer added value, in terms of quality and features, we are not talking of bio from the shelf, but special bio, and this is the focus of our efforts in product development. Compared to the requirements of the EU bio directives, our products are derived 100 per cent from biological cultivation. And although the law does not necessarily require this, for customers it is a given: if bio, then bio 100 per cent, and no exceptions.

What does today’s bio market in Austria look like?
“Ja! Natürlich“ was not just a pioneer in bio-agriculture, Austria is the bio world champion in general. A fifth of the agricultural lands are cultivated biologically, which is a very high proportion. The only countries coming close are maybe Liechtenstein and Switzerland, but all other countries, even Germany, France and the UK, are trailing behind by far.
Meanwhile, every tenth farmer in Austria is a bio-farmer, making a total of 21,900. As stated, these farmers, largely dairy farmers and crop growers, cultivate according to the natural conditions of the soil. 7,000 farmers supply our systems, their raw produce is processed to “Ja! Natürlich” products in 160 partner operations.
Today, bio stands for healthy and safe foods, every grocer in Austria offers bio products. “Ja! Natürlich” has become a synonym for bio. The bio market stopped being a niche market some time ago and is now worth a billion Euros. Approximately two thirds are generated in the grocery trade, of which more than half can be attributed to “Ja! Natürlich”.

How about the trend to regional marketing?
As I mentioned initially, „Ja! Natürlich” is also a provenance brand and strongly associated with Austria, but the regions are becoming more important. We may be Austrian, but in an increasingly European landscape people want their own identity, on the one hand they think globally, on the other they return to regions. And regions are the dominant food trend if you will, as regionality conveys authenticity. But there are also a number of added bonus points: regionality spells freshness, is environmentally friendly, saves on CO2, creates local value – we stay within our country and support our livelihood. “Ja! Natürlich is not just an Austrian brand, but also a regional brand, and all our efforts are focused on pushing ahead with regional products.
Absolutely new is our cooperation with the national parks in Austria which is also advertised on TV. The national parks are guardians of nature at its best, where everything is protected, even Austria’s national pride. We have always enjoyed a close cooperation with the Hohe Tauern national park, which extends from Zell am See to the Krimml falls. This is the home of dairy and cattle farmers, every second farmer is a bio-farmer, a sort of European bio showcase. This year we succeeded in extending this cooperation to all six national parks and to market the regional specialities “Schmankerl” (= tidbits) as gastronomical highlights under our brandname – in a joint appearance with the directors of the national parks and the ministry, also in the context of conserving nature.

Is „Ja! Natürlich“ committed beyond product marketing?
“Biodiversity“ is a cumbersome word, we have translated it into „variety“. 2010 is the international year of the variety of species: the loss in species ranges across fields, acres and oceans, and in the last few years 250,000 plant species have disappeared. This is not only due to the climate change, it has to do with mankind, how we live, act, eat and it also has a lot to do with agriculture. This loss of species is taking place at a dramatic rate. Presently we feed ourselves from only five types of wheat, this results in dependencies, destroyed soils, contaminated water, and an ill population. In India many people no longer know what to do in terms of nutrition under these conditions. Variety is the basis for our nutritional security and essential for sustainable agriculture. Which is why protecting the variety of species matters greatly to us. This year we undertook special joint efforts with the Ministry of the Environment and started agricultural projects, of course in the fields where we are active and have a degree of influence, also jointly with the “Ark Noah” society to protect crop cultivation, whereby a number of rare vegetables were included in our product portfolio.
Ethics have become a new dimension in brand orientation, a new motto, which stems from the Lohas movement. Lohas believe in the do-ability of a better world, but not by abstinence, but by utilising technologies intelligently, by having superior ideas, and where climate protection and environmental conservation play a role. We have included ethics in our brand management from the beginning. We support social projects for banana growers in Ecuador to ensure a fair wage, we pay considerably above the minimum prices. By buying bio, everyone can contribute to more ethics in business, to better environmental protection. Each purchase of bio products reduces CO2 levels as biological foods are also environment-friendly food products.

And how about packaging?
Right from the beginning, we took care to use environment-friendly materials for packaging. Why have a high usage of carton, many of our products are packed in cartons. But we have also realized that we need to go one step further, we are not yet where we want to be. For example, when we opened a garden section this year, we included bio-plants in compostable flower pots, i.e. flower pots you can stick into the soil and which degrade with time. Another example is tea bags made from GMO-free corn starch. It is not always to implement such ideas as supplies are often not easy to come by.

Is the „Ja! Natürlich“ brand crisis-resistant?
“Ja! Natürlich“ has a high proportion of regular customers, which has kept the brand resistant to crises. Because the regulars have understood the message, bio is not a fly by night attitude. Of course, we also have switch customers who we lose in difficult times. Those are the customers who say, I will buy “Ja! Natürlich” when I can afford it. But the majority of customers are regulars and consistently purchase 8-10 products from the different product groups.
Bio is important for those foods which people have on their plates every day. Bio also starts becoming important when families are started, when babies are born, a time when people reflect about nutrition. Young people are not that concerned about bio, to be honest. They have different, more important topics to think about, conscious nutrition is not at the top of the agenda, this comes later, when the have children, grow old. And normally a 20-year old is always healthy, the experience no ailments.
People approach the bio topic via milk, yoghurt, cheese – everyday foods, rather than via ingredients which disappear during cooking. However, it is important to taste the difference to conventional foods, this holds especially true for non-processed foods such as meat, fruit, eggs – and here the share of bio is extremely high. Our Clever double-cream also sells better than bio, and our market share of “Ja! Natürlich” Parmesan cheese is also low, both are seldom visible or part of daily nutrition. For Italians Parmesan and Mozzarella are core products for bio. So, bio does depend heavily on the local menu.

Future plans?
Innovations play a major role for the brand. “Ja! Natürlich” is an entity for a better life, and a better life goes well beyond just eating. We took a first step in the past years by offering holidays at bio-farmers in the national parks. Garden products were our second step beyond the classic boundaries of foods. You can buy seeds and plants from “Ja! Natürlich” as well as enjoy freshly harvested vegetables of prime bio quality.

Is an expansion of the concept to other markets planned? Is this even possible – or adaptations necessary?
Germany is going in a totally different direction. Rewe Germany covers the same segments as Rewe Austria, but with different brand names, mostly under the Rewe umbrella. Rewe bio has a totally different positioning in terms of provenance and quality. It is too early for CEE. Adaptations would be necessary as “Ja! Natürlich” needs the countryside provenance to express sustainability. The success of “Ja! Natürlich” is based on local identification, “Ja! Natürlich” is a provenance brand, equates to "Yes, to Austria” (in German, this is the rhyme “Ja zu A!”), is THE bio brand of the Austrian bio farmers. That means, the brand connects heavily with all levels relating to the countryside. This would be the idea that needs to be transferred.


Mag. Martina Hörmer.

mashed potatoes

"Ja! Natürlich": mashed potatoes.


"Ja! Natürlich": tea.


"Ja! Natürlich": rice.

Suzanne McEwen +43 1 218 6918 mcewen@procarton.com
Background Pro Carton is the European Association of Carton and Cartonboard manufacturers. Its main purpose is to promote the use of cartons and cartonboard to brand owners, the trade as well as designers, the media and politicians as an economically and ecologically balanced packaging medium.