A Pioneering Leader of Organics

As modest as he is, he’d probably not call himself a pioneer. But, by all accounts, Pedro Gonçalves is a thought leader and doer in expanding the slowly growing organic movement in Portugal. 

While you’re able to find some organic foodstuffs at many grocery stores and markets across Portugal, Pedro explains that the country lags behind the rest of its EU neighbours. Much of this has to do with the former dictatorship – more on that later. 

Meanwhile, Pedro Gonçalves is playing a pivotal role in helping Portugal catch up. He and his business partner and former wife, Ana, opened the country’s first all organic online grocery store in Portimão back in 2007. Since then, they have worked tirelessly to develop and expand the availability of organics over these last 16 years. Just last year, they opened their second all-organic market, Mercearia Bio, in Lagos, making it the centrepiece of their online and store business.  

According to Pedro, every item in their stores and online presence is certified organic – that is, with the exception of a new line of fresh bread. But, he adds, this is deliberate on his part – organic fresh bread is elusive in Portugal, so he’s nurturing a small bread-making business to move into organics. It’s working as the baker is now producing organic baguettes. 

An “organic” renaissance man

This makes Pedro part start-up mentor, part entrepreneur, part environmentalist, and full-on organic purist. As a son of Portugal, he studied hospitality in Porto and earned his business chops in the world of big hotel and food and beverage management in London, Brazil, and Kazakhstan. 

But his work and travel with hotel behemoths like Hyatt were not compatible with raising a family – not to his and Ana’s standards. So, in 2007, the two decided to align their business acumen (Ana is the finance and human resources person) with their sustainability values of protecting the environment and the planet. 

“This is not just about food, but it’s about how you live, whether you have practices that are environmentally friendly,” says Pedro. “It’s about your habits, how you manage your waste, how you create waste, if you choose to buy bottles of plastic or you choose to reuse. We did this because people need options for healthier things and practices. So our concept is not only food itself, but it’s a more holistic concept.” 

As we say, they put their money where their mouth is – not only in their commitment toward organic but, more broadly, their commitment to creating an organic infrastructure in Portugal. 

From organic to chemical and slowly back to organic

The country has essentially come full circle with organics. Portugal was a closed country during the dictatorship that ruled from 1933–1974, with limited trading or financial exchanges with other countries. Because of this, most of the production in Portugal was organic simply because most of the country’s producers didn’t have access to chemicals. Pedro points out, “Chemicals (herbicides and pesticides) then came at the end of the dictatorship when the borders were open and Portugal entered the European community.”

Once trading was allowed, the pendulum swung as Portuguese farmers and producers had access to herbicides and pesticides to control plagues that threatened their crops. Then along came the 1990s and early 2000s, when the European community embraced organic practices realising how chemicals are undermining the health of the people and the planet. 

Yet research shows that Portugal continues to lag deeply behind this movement as there’s a giant disconnect in getting the food from farm to table. Pedro, working as a middleman and tireless advocate, is doing his best to address this issue by using his organic grocery venues as a connection for Portuguese farmers to get their goods distributed and into the hands of people who want them.

You can visit and order online at merceariabio.pt or find their stores by the same name in Lagos and Portimão.

Becca Williams is settling into small-town living in Lagos, contact her at AlgarveBecca@gmail.com


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