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The history of organic pioneers

As long as 30 years ago, Coop launched Naturaplan – the first organic brand in the Swiss retail sector. A real pioneering achievement. However, the origins of Swiss organic farming go back even further. The real trailblazers were organic farmers as well as scientists and politicians.

Milestones in Swiss organic farming

The 1920s

Mina Hofstetter, a pioneer in organic farming, stands in a field of grain.
Mina Hofstetter. Source: Zwischen Zorn und Zärtlichkeit – Die Geschichte des Biolandbaus in der Schweiz. (Caught between anger and tenderness – the history of organic farming in Switzerland.)
The Austrian Rudolf Steiner came up with the theory of biodynamic agriculture in 1924, thus creating the basis for the Demeter farming association founded in 1927, which was the beginning of organized biodynamic farming. In Switzerland, the nutritional reformer Mina Hofstetter is a pioneer of organic farming. She passed on Steiner’s theories and her own studies in presentations and her writings. She started teaching courses in organic farming and gardening in Ebmatingen in the Canton of Zurich in 1928 and in 1936 established a school for organic agriculture. Rosa and Konrad Oswald switched to biodynamic farming methods on their farm in Klarsreuti in the Canton of Thurgau in the late 1920s and thus became Switzerland’s first organic farmers.

1930s and 1940s

Maria and Hans Müller.
Maria and Hans Müller. Source: Zwischen Zorn und Zärtlichkeit – Die Geschichte des Biolandbaus in der Schweiz. (Caught between anger and tenderness – the history of organic farming in Switzerland.)
The Möschberg farming and domestic science school was founded by Maria and Hans Müller in Grosshöchstetten in the Canton of Berne. Maria Müller ran the school and investigated key principles of organic farming in the garden. Her husband founded the young farmers’ movement and became a National Councillor. After the Second World War, however, he moved back to the Möschberg. The work of the Müllers gained international renown.

The 1950s

Group photo during an international exchange of experiences in organic and biodynamic farming.
International exchange of experiences in organic and biodynamic farming. Source: Zwischen Zorn und Zärtlichkeit – Die Geschichte des Biolandbaus in der Schweiz. (Caught between anger and tenderness – the history of organic farming in Switzerland.)
The basic principles of organic and biodynamic farming were developed by Maria and Hans Müller in cooperation with the German physician and bacteriologist Hanspeter Rusch, from which the German farming association Bioland was later constituted – today one of the leading organic farming associations in the German-speaking countries. The findings of the research work were passed on in courses of the Möschberg movement. The organic foodstuffs were sold almost exclusively directly on the farm and, to a small extent, also via the existing health food shops. In Switzerland, the first organic companies such as Biotta (vegetable juices) and Bio-Familia (cereals) were established.

The 1960s

Portrait photo of Professor Philippe Matile, another pioneer of Swiss organic farming.
Philippe Matile. Source: Zwischen Zorn und Zärtlichkeit – Die Geschichte des Biolandbaus in der Schweiz. (Caught between anger and tenderness – the history of organic farming in Switzerland.)
The organic movement was still largely isolated. The signs of the times were geared to progress and growth. Ecology and organic farming were rejected by the majority of the population or met with a lack of understanding. Towards the end of the 1960s, the concept of organic nutrition slowly started attracting interest from another target group: younger people who were not interested in the esoteric views of the Steiner movement but who were curious about the nascent ideas of environmental protection. The article written in 1966 by Professor Philippe Matile at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich "Die Grenzen der Kunstdüngerwirtschaft" (The limits of farming with artificial fertilizer) angered many representatives of conventional farming methods. But other publications by Professor Matile also proved to be a touchpaper and sparked off a widespread discussion among the Swiss public.

The 1970s

Logos of various Swiss organic organizations in the 1970s
Source: FiBL
The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) was established in 1973. Having been rejected by the Swiss Parliament, this institute was set up as a private initiative to support organic farmers with scientific advice. Moreover, the Biofarm cooperative was established as a group that broke away from the Möschberg movement. Demeter, Biofarm, SGBL and Progana are other organic organizations that, however, did not engage heavily in a dialogue with each other.

The 1980s

Organic farmer with a plough.
Organic farmer with a plough. Source: Zwischen Zorn und Zärtlichkeit – Die Geschichte des Biolandbaus in der Schweiz. (Caught between anger and tenderness – the history of organic farming in Switzerland.)
Organic takes off: under the aegis of the FiBL, the organic farming associations Demeter, Biofarm, SGBL Bio and Progana agree on joint organic guidelines disseminated by the world’s first organic umbrella association Bio Suisse. The logo of the green bud, originally created by Philippe Matile for the FiBL, became the binding quality seal. The catalyst for this initiative was the threat of a ban in the late 1970s of the "organic" category by a Federal committee, which complained about the inconsistent use of the term in the food sector. Environmental catastrophes such as Chernobyl or the fire at Sandoz in Basel helped generate growing interest in organic foodstuffs. Young dropouts founded more and more organic communes or took over farms in order to engage in organic farming.

The 1990s

Federal Councillor Jean Pascal Delamuraz and the deputy director of the Federal Office for Agriculture, Professor Hans Popp.
Federal Councillor Jean Pascal Delamuraz and the deputy director of the Federal Office for Agriculture, Professor Hans Popp. Source: Zwischen Zorn und Zärtlichkeit – Die Geschichte des Biolandbaus in der Schweiz. (Caught between anger and tenderness – the history of organic farming in Switzerland.)
Organic farming in Switzerland was boosted by referendums in the 1990s. Draft bills aiming to reinforce conventional farming methods – without regard for the soil or animal welfare – were clearly rejected. Organic farming was recognized as a method worthy of protection, since the agricultural reform of 1992 changed the system of direct payments to farms and the government approved subsidies for farms wishing to switch to organic methods. To date, however, the sale of organic products has been via small organic shops, health food shops and direct sales at farm shops.

1993

Representatives of Coop and Bio Suisse celebrate the signing of the partnership agreement.
Representatives of Coop and Bio Suisse celebrate the signing of the partnership agreement. Source: Zwischen Zorn und Zärtlichkeit – Die Geschichte des Biolandbaus in der Schweiz. (Caught between anger and tenderness – the history of organic farming in Switzerland.)
The birth of Naturaplan, the first retail brand for foodstuffs produced by organic farming methods. Coop commits to complying with the strict Bio Suisse guidelines and not selling any organic products without the Bud logo via Naturaplan. At this time, this strategic partnership was the only one of its kind in the world. Although Coop had supported particularly animal-friendly production since 1978, organic foodstuffs were now more widely available, thanks to Naturaplan. Despite initial doubts among the general public, the Naturaplan brand has now long since become established.

1994

Newspaper article with the heading “Coop seeking farmers interested in organic methods”.
The organic boom set in, and there were not enough organic farms in Switzerland to meed the demand for Naturaplan products. In a campaign, Coop sought new organic farms, and over 3 000 farmers signed up.

1997

An organic farm in a green valley.
Source: FiBL.
Coop and FiBL embark on a partnership with the aim of promoting organic agriculture, for instance, by developing species especially for organic farming or by improving farming methods and product quality.

2003

Naturaplan celebrates its 10th anniversary.
Naturaplan celebrates its 10th anniversary and Coop marks the occasion by launching the Naturaplan Fund, now called the Coop Sustainability Fund, which supports projects currently amounting to CHF 16.5 million each year.

2005

Street party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bio Suisse.
Source: Bio Suisse
Bio Suisse celebrates its 25th anniversary and is proud that there are now 6,114 Bud companies in Switzerland. Coop congratulates the long-standing partner with an ad campaign.

2008

The Naturaplan logo is updated.
The perception of organic products is changing. In the mid-2000s, the term LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) is coined to describe people who pursue a healthy and environmentally aware lifestyle. Coop takes account of this trend by updating the Naturaplan visual identity and expanding the product range further, focusing on health and enjoyment.

2010

In the UN Year of Biodiversity, Coop develops projects related to organic farming.
In cooperation with Bio Suisse and the FiBL (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture), Coop marks the UN Year of Biodiversity by highlighting the connection for the public between organic farming and protecting biodiversity in a range of different projects.

2013

Naturaplan celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013.
Naturaplan, the first organic brand in the Swiss retail sector, marks its 20th anniversary. Coop presented a world first for the occasion: Swiss organic-quality branded products in a dual branding drive with Naturaplan. Coop introduces a total of 20 products to this range. They include Naturaplan organic fondue from Gerber, Naturaplan organic crisps from Zweifel, Naturaplan organic beer from Feldschlösschen, and even Thomy takes part with organic mustard and mayonnaise. Coop also addresses the organic concept through music by launching the casting band "Sons of Nature" and their song "I Love", which proves very popular and wins a gold disc.

2016

Naturaplan organic-quality beef tomatoes.
Organic products are becoming increasingly established. Consumers in Switzerland purchase organic products totalling over CHF 2.5 billion each year, accounting for almost 8% of the market share. Sales of Naturaplan exceed the CHF 1 billion mark for the first time. The share of organic products sold by Coop accounts for almost 50% of the Swiss organic market.

2018

Coop introduces over 2 500 Naturaplan products into its range to mark Naturaplan's 25th anniversary.
Naturaplan can look back on a successful trend over the past 25 years. Coop now carries more than 2 500 Naturaplan products, and around 14% of all foodstuffs sold are organic. To mark the anniversary, the brand was updated and now appears under the claim "Natural. Right. Good." Because it’s natural that people should take care of the environment and its resources. Here and everywhere in the world. Because it’s right to treat nature and its products respectfully and carefully and to act sustainably. Because it’s good to do something good for yourself and to enjoy the best of nature with a good conscience.

2021

A coffee machine station in a Coop restaurant, where only organic coffee is available.
Since 2021, fresh coffee available at the coffee machines in all Coop restaurants, Coop Take-it and Ca’Puccini outlets has been certified to Bio Suisse and Fairtrade standards. Also available are Swiss milk, coffee cream and Naturaplan organic-quality sugar bearing the Bio Suisse Bud. The paper cups for take-away hot beverages are FSC®-certified. The organic range at the coffee machines thus meets the highest standards in terms of fairness and environmental awareness.

2023

Coop celebrates the 30th anniversary of its own-label brand Naturaplan.
30 years of Naturaplan: we are celebrating the anniversary of our largest own-label brand with numerous events and the launch of over 170 new Naturaplan products in the course of the year. Coop customers can already find around 3 000 sustainable Naturaplan products on the shelves, and the number is steadily rising.