Once considered a niche product, the organic sector is now a significant and rapidly growing part of the global retail landscape. Sales of organic food and drink alone in the UK have passed £2.5 billion, with organic supermarket sales growing by 12.5% in the last twelve months.
However, the online organic market has seen the most remarkable growth, with sales now reaching £500 million per year and passing sales in the independent retail sector for the first time.
This means that organic fulfillment is more important than ever and is set to play an increasing role in online sales in the future. So, what is organic fulfillment, and how does it work?
The organic movement – history and legislation
Organic products were first introduced as a push-back against the industrial production and farming methods introduced in the early 1900s. The so-called industrialized approach to agriculture, in particular, relied heavily on pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. While the movement started with food, it now covers many different products, including clothing and cosmetics.
Organic products do not contain toxic chemicals, are not genetically engineered, and are produced without ionizing radiation. Therefore, organic crops are grown without synthetic pesticides or arsenic-containing herbicides. Also, no antibiotics or synthetic hormones are used to rear animals for the organic meat market.
As the organic movement grew, as did the need for certification. Consumers needed to be confident that foods labeled as ‘organic’ were produced in the way they expected. These days we have comprehensive systems of inspection and certification of organic production. The requirements to gain certification vary between countries, but most involve standards that apply to growing and storage and processing, and packaging. In the age of online business, that certification must also include shipment and order fulfillment systems and facilities. In many countries, legislation has been passed to formalize the certification process, which governments oversee.
These days, many consumers aim to adopt an organic lifestyle which means a lot more than simply buying organic food. For example, organic clothes are made from natural textiles such as cotton grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. In addition, organic personal care products and cleaning products do not contain potentially harmful chemicals such as phthalates and instead rely on natural plant-based ingredients that are kind to the environment.
Certification of organic fulfillment
To achieve organic certification, an organic warehouse will need to comply with the organic regulations for the relevant country. In the EU, the relevant legislation is European organic regulations (EC) No 834/2007 and (EC) No 889/2008. Facilities are regularly inspected and expected to have strict processes for receiving and controlling stock. Examples of product labeling and packaging and staff training records need to be available for assessment, and the facility needs to meet exacting hygiene standards.
There is also a need for strict batch control where organic foods, supplements, and beauty products are separated into batches. It should be possible to trace which batch was released in which order.
In the UK, the Soil Association operates various certification schemes for organic facilities. To ensure that the public can have confidence that the products they are buying comply with organic standards, the certification records are available for the public to view.
Compliance and records
Organic fulfillment facilities will be expected to maintain standards in many areas to comply with certification requirements. These need to be put in place to maintain the integrity of organic products and prevent contamination by non-organic goods.
There must be clear labeling, including rooms and areas where organic goods are stored. This also extends to storage racking and other equipment used for storage. When organic goods are at the facility, they must be clearly labeled as organic, not confused with similar products that have not been produced to organic standards.
Materials that come into contact with organic goods must not risk contamination. This would include storage bins and containers, which must be made easy to clean and non-absorbent. They must also be robust enough and designed appropriately to prevent vermin, pests, and birds contamination. Storage should be dedicated for organic use only and labeled appropriately.
Separation of organic and non-organic goods
To avoid confusion and contamination, organic and non-organic goods need to be effectively separated. This should be achieved by sufficient space and by physical barriers.
Organic products mustn’t be contaminated at the fulfillment facility. This requires regular and appropriate cleaning of all surfaces, equipment, and buildings to prevent dirt contamination and discourage pests.
Record keeping in a fulfillment facility serves several purposes. First, it is required to demonstrate that the organic products have been produced, transported, stored, and handled correctly at all supply chain stages. To achieve this, there must be records of goods in and goods out and records of stock held at any one time. Supplier and possibly client certification must also be recorded.
Records must also be kept in relation to pest control treatments and inspections and staff training in the requirements of organic production and storage. Finally, complaints register with investigations, and corrective actions must be maintained.
Organic fulfillment: what you need to know
- Organic sector booms in the UK as online sales increase by a third – New Food Magazine – https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/news/137823/uk-organic-market/
- UK organic market now worth £2.79 billion, report says – Farming UK – https://www.farminguk.com/news/uk-organic-market-now-worth-2-79-billion-report-says_57560.html.
- Organic principles – The Soil Association – https://www.soilassociation.org/who-we-are/organic-principles/
- COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No 889/2008 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 on organic production and labeling of organic products about organic production, labeling, and control – https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex:32008R0889