Director Paul Hombeck: Paving the way for organic growth

Paul Holmbeck, director of Organic Denmark, has worked in politics, market development and communications for over 30 years. In connection with a speaker session at Nordic Organic Food Fair in Malmö on November 15 he has given an exclusive Q&A interview, where he talks about the importance of growing the organic industry and why Denmark is leading the way.

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?

Working in grassroots politics and lobby work for over 40 years on two continents has taught me that making change “is all about the people”.  It’s about creating motivation by tapping into what is important for, for example, farmers, consumers, companies, retail executives, politicians, organisations. It doesn’t matter if it’s the prime minister or the person making her dinner in the ministry’s kitchen, it’s all about turning a light on to what is exciting about new solutions; and then working together to find the way. There is a lot of change just waiting to happen! Its people that make it happen. Motivation is key.

Why is it important to grow the organic industry?

The organic farmers, food companies, consumers and allies are developing new solutions for environment, animal welfare, climate and biodiversity every day, and building a new green economic sector at the same time, that can create jobs, value and new opportunity for farmers and communities in rural areas. The organic principles and values drive innovation, because we are always trying to reach our goals for sustainability.

In what ways are Denmark leading the way in organic?

We have a solid organic policy base, innovative farmers and companies, and we are good at cooperating—with supermarket and food service leaders, with all political parties, and with many allies in organisations working for nature, animal welfare, consumer rights and agriculture. We have positive communication on organics, and organics are “folkelig”, or “of the people”.

Besides having the world’s highest organic market share in the supermarkets, we have a great momentum in the professional kitchens, both public and private. The 60% goal for all public kitchens and investment in training of kitchen staff has, together with mobilising the food service industry, triggered an unstoppable force for change—a broad agenda for food service with less meat, more greens, buying in season, reducing waste and 60% organic.

What are the current biggest challenge(s) for the organic sector?

Fortunately, we thrive on challenges, because we have a lot of them! We need to keep growing the organic market, and bringing more consumers and farmers “on board”. But at the same time that we create more organic production and food, we have to create better organic production and food. More and better. Because we are for example not even close to making an adequate difference for the climate, and closing nutrient cycles is still only in the experimental stage. Sustainability requires new solutions that change farming and the entire food system. But you know, we built the food system, we can rebuild it.

What do you want visitors to take away from your session?

My central message is that ORGANIC POLITICS WORK! In Denmark, national and municipal policy makers have teamed up with Organic Denmark to design policy that drives market growth, supports innovation in fields and food companies, increases farm conversion, and has turned the organic food sector into a motor for green growth. I will share the lessons from the last 25 years on policy that works, on our approach to lobby work and how we grow the market in a very close collaboration with our partners in retail.

What are you looking forward to most about coming to Nordic Organic Food Fair?

Meeting producers! Their ideas, their drive, and dedication. It's inspiring. And its changing the way we produce food and the way we treat the planet.

Paul Holmbeck's session on ‘Organic growth through offensive market collaboration and innovative organic politics: the Danish model’ will take place in the Organic Theatre at Nordic Organic Food Fair on 15 November at 2pm – 2.45pm.