07 November 2019, 11:13 AM
  • Heritage, authenticity and the planet are the key forces driving Christopher Dawson and his renowned business, Clearspring
Viewpoint: Christopher Dawson

Through the Clearspring brand I support 40 brands from Japan and 40 from 14 other countries, and without us tens of them would go bankrupt. We supply 55 countries in total, and in some countries – our mission is a struggle; some supermarkets have destroyed local food culture and consumers have got used to artificially cheap food. When you introduce speciality food to these markets, shoppers see it as expensive and question the organic certification. Educating consumers as to why organic food costs what it does is key to what Clearspring does; we spend a lot of energy on our website to make it educational. Soon we’ll launch videos on our website, profiling Japanese producers who are doing things differently to the mainstream brands, in order to highlight that there are people within the food industry upholding heritage skills and the country’s traditionally taste and nutrition-rich foods. We have direct relationships with these producers, and by sharing their stories people have really bought into what we’re doing.

Because of the Commonwealth, British people are open-minded and international flavours are readily accepted here. However, there’s not a strong commitment to organic. People have been more focused, sentimentally, on Fairtrade and free-from and haven’t yet grasped the importance of organic. They don’t realise that long-term, non-organic is more expensive than organic; we’re destroying our water table, rivers and beaches because of the quantity of nitrates used – it’s phenomenal, and it is all running into our water systems. People don’t see this chain reaction which is causing hidden costs, they’re only seeing simple messages like ‘buy one, get one free’ on poor quality, unsustainable food and drink options. Some supermarkets are selling food and drink so cheaply, often at the expense of the producer. We don’t enjoy things in season as we used to; if we can’t get the same items every day we think there’s something wrong. That’s why I enjoy shopping in the markets and making that investment to support farmers. I’ll happily buy products with a blemish, whereas a lot of people believe that if they’re paying more for a product with an organic label it should be perfect – they don’t realise that a blemish is natural. We’re losing our connection with traditional, natural foods.

Today, only 10% of heritage seeds are still in use – we’ve lost 90% in a century. We’re losing our old fruit varieties where the yield was less but more nutritious; the hybridisation of seeds and fruit and vegetable varieties has destroyed the intrinsic qualities of the vegetable kingdom. I’m not here to push the Clearspring brand purely for commercial reasons, I’m trying to get consumers to see that this is the way forward – and the benefit to themselves, the planet and their grandchildren.

I support plant-based foods. If you want to eat what I call ‘animal food’ you’ve got to take responsibility for what you’re eating – it’s impossible for humanity to have it 24/7. Have meat and fish when it’s seasonally in abundance, when nature provides a surplus. To farm animals and use quality vegetable foods to feed them isn’t ecologically possible long-term. Offer the option of meat or fish, which hasn’t been over-farmed or cultivated, in season. The more a consumer and retailer can relate to the seasons the more they will benefit, mentally and physically.

Independents should pride themselves in being able to bring seasonal foods to the consumer, including products like ours, and help consumers reconnect with the abundance of nature.

For the full interview head to the October issue, p.34.

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