Manuela Rehn and Jörg Reuter of the eco strategy consultancy „Grüne Köpfe“ (i.e. green heads), are making a dream of theirs come true. In their delicacy store “Vom Einfachen das Gute” (i.e. of all things simple, all things good), they sell foods following the motto, “eat nothing of which you don’t know the story” and thereby demonstrate their own understanding of quality and sustainability.
CFL: With “Vom Einfachen das Gute” you’ve created a type of delicacy story that perfectly fits the current spirit of the time. Your shelves are stocked with Slow Food products from all over the world. When did the idea for this arise?
EG: We had the original idea four years ago. We were sitting in the restaurant Terroir, while in Switzerland for a consultancy project, which unfortunately has closed down in the meanwhile. The restaurant exclusively served Swiss products. We liked that a lot. We appreciated how comfortably the Swiss handle “Swissness”. We wondered why there was no such thing as “Germanness”. The term itself even makes you shudder. So we started thinking about whether it would be possible to establish a type of new “Germanness”. By showing people that there’s no need to travel to France for good cheese, nor to Spain or Italy for good ham. We let the idea simmer for a couple of years. Early this year we started putting it into action and opened the store six months later.
CFL: …and ended up not specializing in German products at all.
Indeed. Somehow we felt this would be too limiting. Especially when you want to fill an entire store. Also, it would have been too bad to have to pass on great items like this delicious Iberian ham.
But first and foremost, we recognized somehow that “Germanness” just isn’t us. To be honest, this whole discussion about regionality kind of annoys us. We believe that above all it’s emotional proximity that’s important. It’s really not a matter of kilometers, as long you have some kind of emotional relation. So we prefer focusing on telling the story of our products. When you do that, all of a sudden Iberian ham is just as close to home as Baltic ham.
CFL: Apart from this new venture, you consult companies regarding sustainability. Emotional proximity aside, isn’t there an understanding that it would be important to shop regionally for purely ecological reasons?
EG: Above all, we are strategists and not environmental experts. We support big companies in integrating sustainability and responsibility into their product palette, so it adds to the brand. The fact of the matter is, the term “regionality” is worn out. It is unclear how ecologically valuable regionality truly is. There are studies, for example, that prove that mutton from large New Zealand farms has a better ecological balance than if you end up trucking around to ten different regional farmers.
It bears remembering: Whether its retail or gastronomy, in the end you’re entirely dependent on the customer’s willingness to pay your price. In our opinion, consumers will never reward this whole food miles gimmick. Emotional proximity is much better at generating such willingness.
We make decisions based on the following rule: The more generic the product, the more important the geographic proximity is. Generic means: little processing. So, for products like milk, apples, tomatoes, there is no good reason why these should come from Lake Constance or Italy, when these things grow here all the same. But the more complex a product gets, the higher the demands towards raw materials and recipe, the more important emotional proximity is. Then 500 km make no difference at all. That’s why our store offers such a broad variety. If we can sell jam from Berlin or tomatoes from the Uckermark, why should we buy them from where ever else. However, we have a high emotional proximity to friends of ours from Dresden, which is 200km away, so we prefer selling the jam that they make. Another fitting example is butter. We typically offer butter from the Brandenburg region. But we also offer French salted barrel butter because it’s a specialty and has tradition and you simply can’t get anything like it here.
CFL: So one could say that you try to influence the consciousness of the consumer, without prescribing their choices. By means of emotional proximity people’s consciousness is expanded and they’re left to develop a personal form of responsible behavior of their own accord.
EG: Exactly. This is what led us to diverge from the idea of “Germanness” in the end. This would have been nothing but a new dictation, a marketing concept, without any true soul. But what we do, is all about soul.