Organic to the Roots: The Story of an Organic Food Company
Biona: Our Organic Story
Nowadays, organic food and farming are familiar to most of us. In fact, more than thirty percent of shoppers in the UK prefer to feed their family organic*.
We even have Organic September, a celebration raising the profile of this wonderful way of eating each harvest-time since 1994. The days when organic was a little-known concept - with just a few followers - have truly passed.
But how did we get from those days to now?
In part, it's down to some of those early followers. Keen to spread the benefits of organically grown food, they found ways to make it available to as many people as possible.
Amongst those pioneers were our co-founders, Noel McDonald and Donata Berger. Having started the UK's first 100% organic company, Windmill Organics, Noel and Donata went on to create organic food brand Biona. Right up to today, Biona remains a family-run brand that prioritises providing great tasting, thoughtfully prepared food that is better for you and the planet.
The Biona story begins in the 1970s on the west coast of Ireland, where our founder Noel was living off the land in a commune. While self-sufficiency deepened his respect for nature, he realised the small farm couldn’t make an impact more widely. In a decision that would change more than he could imagine, Noel left Ireland. He took his love for the Earth and dedication to producing food sustainably and moved to London.
In 1978, Noel found the perfect spot on the Fulham Road. He built some shelves from recycled wood, sourced sacks of quality beans, rice and lentils and opened one of the country’s earliest organic shops: Windmill Wholefoods.
Around this time, Noel met Donata, an enthusiastic foodie passionate about all things organic. They joined forces, opening one of the country’s first exclusively vegetarian restaurants in 1981, right next to the shop. The reception was rapturous, but the pair kept coming up against a lack of good organic products. So they set out on a mission. Simply put, they wanted more sustainable food options - for everybody.
Fast forward a few years and Noel and Donata had founded the UK’s first exclusively organic company. In 1992, they created their first food brand.
The Birth of Biona
Noel and Donata knew this brand would be purely organic food. To be a brand they would be proud to stock, it would also have to be natural, totally vegetarian food. Of course, it was a given that the products would always be delicious.
With these values in mind, they named the brand Biona: Bio being the root of the word for ‘organic’ in many languages, and na from ‘nature’.
Part of a Movement
Our very first product, granola, was lovingly created around the family kitchen table. Soon, Noel and Donata were making it in their restaurant kitchen, hand-packing boxes and even painting the labels themselves! You can still enjoy the time-tested recipe now. It was so well received, Noel and Donata began adding equally great-tasting, sustainable products to the range.
As the organic movement boomed, we became known as a reliable and delicious go-to brand. You could say Biona fuelled and fed the public demand for great-tasting, organic food.
Before long, the Biona range spanned organic basics, such as sustainably-grown Italian chopped tomatoes; to additive-free meals, like our warming Brown Lentil Curry - organic down to the herbs and spices. By 1998, we were proudly distributing organic products all over the world.
At Biona, we know that organic food has a positive impact – for the environment, for wildlife and for those that eat it. That's why it’s always been our mission to make it easy for you to choose food that’s good for you and great for the planet.
All our ingredients are grown on organic land to the highest welfare and environmental standards. This makes for premium quality products. Just as importantly, it means better soil quality, waterways unspoiled by chemicals and protected wildlife. In short, Biona products are food you can trust, free from GMO, preservatives and artificial pesticides.
Investing in Tomorrow
By choosing Biona, you're investing in all the benefits organic brings to the environment. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, greater biodiversity and soil healthy enough to feed the world for generations to come; to name a few.
To date, we’re responsible for around 7000 acres of land being farmed organically. As we continue to grow, we'll keep reinvesting in spreading our mission. That means converting farmland to organic land across the world: working in harmony with nature, protecting the soil vitality and encouraging biodiversity from bees to birds.
“Through our unwavering commitment to organic, we provide long-term support and security to our partner farmers.”
- Noel McDonald, Biona co-founder.
And our principles aren't only about how our ingredients are grown. At Biona, our ethos is to tread as lightly on the Earth as possible. That’s why we consider the environment in every step of bringing you our products, from farm to fork.
Zero Air Miles
We never use air freight, choosing to avoid the extra emissions that come with flying (up to 50 times carbon dioxide emissions compared with sea freight!).
We're proud that the energy running our headquarters is 100% renewable. Nearly 70% of the Biona range is produced with renewable energy, too.
At Biona, we actively seek sustainable packaging options. That's why many of our products are available in glass - including products that are commonly only available in plastic and Tetra Pak, such as our apple juice. We've also switched many of our rice and grain products to paper packaging. Plus, all our cans are BPA-free and fully recyclable and our multi-packs are sleeved in cardboard, too.
We're passionate about reducing food waste, partnering with charities such as The Felix Project to help serve the local community while keeping good food from being thrown away.
Noel and Donata still play an active role alongside their daughters, Amy and Elisa, and a growing troupe of little foodie grandchildren. We think of it as an extended-family affair!
“The Biona family reaches far beyond the founders and our co-workers, it also includes our loyal customers, as together we build a future based on trust and protecting nature.”
- Noel McDonald, Biona co-founder.
Whether you're a long-time fan or new to the family, we're here to help you on your journey to a healthier and more sustainable future.
How to Get Involved in Organic September
Check out The Soil Association for their helpful tips on how to get involved, whether you’re well on your sustainable way or unsure of where to start. You can choose to make one or more pledges across different themes; like gardening, fashion and beauty and of course food and diet.
As The Soil Association says: “From opting for organic - a way of farming that works with nature - to shopping locally and growing some of your own food, each small action adds up and helps build the movement towards a safer future.”
With #OrganicSeptember in full swing, now’s the perfect time to take an organic pledge and make some simple, sustainable swaps. Find our range of over 400 vegetarian and organic products to help you on your way right here, and in good wholefood shops and supermarkets across the country.
* YouGov survey