UK: Organic market set to return to growth

Bristol / UK. (sa) Sales of organic products in the United Kingdom fell by 12,9 percent in 2009 to 1,84 billion GBP, according to the Organic Market Report published by the British Soil Association. Yet despite the toughest economic climate for 20 years, the report also indicates clear signs of increasing confidence amongst consumers. Based on evidence from the early months of this year, the Soil Association predicts a modest market expansion of between two to five percent in 2010.

The most comprehensive study of UK organic trade, the Organic Market Report shows that in line with other retail sectors, shoppers spent less on organic food in the recession. In addition, leading retailers reduced organic ranges and shelf space. The three biggest categories of organic food – dairy, fruit and vegetables, and fresh meat – saw supermarket sales fall by 6,5 percent, 14,8 percent and 22,7 percent respectively. In contrast, organic milk bucked the trend in dairy sales growing by one percent, with 2009 being the best year for organic milk sales on record, and organic baby food sales, resilient throughout 2009, grew by 20,8 percent passing the 100 million GBP mark.

Organically managed land area in the UK increased to 743’516 hectares in January 2009 – up nine percent on the previous year – and now represents 4,3 percent of UK farmland. Further key findings in the report include:

  • Over 60 percent of the UK´s biggest organic brands are planning for growth in the coming year;
  • Sales of organic food are still three times higher than in 1999 and over 50 percent higher then five years ago;
  • Tesco organic fresh produce sales are already growing. Tesco predict overall organic sales will increase by one percent in 2010 while Waitrose anticipates organic sales growth of three to five percent;
  • Organic box schemes fell by 9,8 percent while supermarket sales of organic fell by 12,2 percent and the independent sector by 17,7 percent;
  • Organic health and beauty products continued to grow rapidly with sales increasing by a third to 36 million GBP;
  • Sales of bread and other bakery items were one of the worst hit categories (minus 39,8 percent);
  • The number of households buying some organic food fell only slightly in 2009 (from 88,9 percent to 88,3 percent);
  • Organic products continue to attract shoppers from across the social spectrum, with groups that include manual and casual workers, pensioners, students and people on benefits accounting for 33 percent of the spend.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director: «It has been a tough year for the organic market, but we have seen businesses that are most committed to communicating the many, real benefits of organic food and farming to the public perform best. Confidence is now returning, and with the growing recognition of the need for environmentally sustainable production systems that are less reliant on fossil fuels, we are confident that the organic market, having weathered the recession, will return to growth. The question we should really be asking is not ‘can we afford organic food?’ but ‘can policy makers afford to carry on playing down the potential of organic farming´s contribution to food security and tackling climate change?’ In the meantime, we need to rekindle the kind of consumer demand that will ultimately be impossible for policy makers and retailers, to ignore».

Info: The report is available as full organic market report 2010 (PDF; 39 pages; 735 KB) and as summary organic market report 2010 (PDF; five pages; 525 KB).

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