Meet-The-Buyer: Al Overton, Planet Organic
Business is built on relationships; and trade shows are a great way to get conversations started. We are pleased to present our meet-the-buyer series: beginning with a Q&A with Planet Organic’s UK Buying Director, Al Overton. Al attended this year’s Naturally Good through the international buyers’ program hosted by Export Connect, and was also a panelist on their export forum held at the show. We spoke to him about his experience at Naturally Good and what it did for his business.
What is your career background, and what does your current role entail?
I graduated as a Medical Herbalist in 1999 and have been involved in natural health retail ever since. I have been at Planet Organic for 15 years; originally as a category buyer, and now as Buying Director – managing the buying, marketing and e-commerce functions within our business.
Can you give us an overview of Planet Organic?
Planet Organic is a speciality health food store and has always had a rigorously applied product standard as to what we will and will not sell. Our customers come to us for food they can trust. They come to us for our breadth of range and for their dietary restrictions or lifestyle choices; whether it be organic, gluten-free, raw, vegan or gut-friendly. And they come to us for inspiration – new products are the lifeblood of our business. We have a first-to-market reputation, and are often the launch pad for new start-up brands or brands just entering the UK. We have seven stores all within London as well as a busy trading website, with expansion plans to open more stores in London.
How did you find the show during your visit?
I enjoyed the entire mission – and in future years I would like to visit the regions where a lot of the products exhibited at Naturally Good come from, such as the Sunshine Coast in QLD, Northern Rivers in NSW and Tasmania.
What types of products did you end up stocking?
The first brand we met on the Australian mission has hit our shelves in a big way. Cheeki bottles have launched as our key drinking bottle brand after meeting them at the show. As far as I know we are their first significant stockist in the UK, and they are now looking to springboard from that to wider European distribution. They invested in marketing opportunities with us and have signed up for European trade shows next year to further grow their EU sales.
Patches, a sticking plaster range that I saw at Naturally Good Expo, are getting near to launching in the UK; and there’s another skincare brand we are looking at stocking over the Christmas period.
On this mission, I met Pimp my Salad and Food to Nourish, and am in discussions with UK wholesalers/distributors about their products. I’m also in talks with importers about another couple of brands from Hot Shots.
What are the trends that you are seeing in health, natural and organic products in your stores, and in the UK market more broadly?
We are seeing growth from plant-based and vegan products, although with a more health-orientated (and less militantly ethical) focus, as well as growth in fermented foods, probiotics and all things gut health. There is also growth in snacking lines and single serve formats, although also a broadening of what could be considered snack food. There is more awareness (but still confusion) over sugar content in food products, plus a huge increase in awareness of single use plastics and the issues in packaging generally within the industry.
What categories and types of products were you keen to discover while in Australia?
NEW products. Not just duplications of products that are already on the shelf, but real newness and innovation. Particularly within snacking, breakfast cereals or foods that can be volume sellers. We wanted brands who were looking to launch into the UK and looking for a launch partner. Products with stand-out shelf appeal.
The International Buyers Program will be continuing in 2019, so make sure to get involved and keep up to date, and find your export opportunities with the Naturally Good Expo.