Soil Association confirms Britain's organic love affair

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Organic food, Uk

As if to confirm the Datamonitor report on organic food sales which
we reported on last week, the UK's Soil Association has this week
issued its own report showing that the British organic market is
alive and kicking, growing at twice the rate of the conventional
food market.

As if to confirm the Datamonitor report on organic food sales which we reported on last week, the UK's Soil Association has this week issued its own report showing that the British organic market is alive and kicking, growng at twice the rate of the conventional food market.

The British chomped their way through £1 billion worth of organic products in one year, making the UK the number three outlet - behind the US and Germany - for organic foods in the world, according to the Soil Association, the UK's main organic food and farming body.

Overall, sales of organic food and drink are growing twice as fast as the conventional grocery market, at over 10 per cent a year, the report showed.

"The market is growing and imports are down because quality and availability of homegrown food is going up all the time. Shoppers are clearly showing that they want local food, giving a strong message to supermarkets to support this country's farmers,"​ said Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association.

The survey - conducted between April 2002 and April 2003 - seems to support Holden's statement, with figures showing that consumers are indeed turning more and more to local food sources, and slowly away from supermarkets.

Direct sales now account for a tenth of all organic food sold. Sales of organic food through farmers' markets, box schemes and farm shops reached over £90 million, revealing a massive growth rate of 30 per cent. The greatest jump in sales figures was through farmers' markets, which more than doubled.

For the first time in five years, said the report, the share of the organic market made up by supermarket sales fell, from 82 per cent to 81 per cent, although the overall value of organic sales through supermarkets continued to rise significantly.

Reliance on imports has decreased for the third year, boosting business for UK farmers, writes the report. Today around 56 per cent of all organic food is imported - down from 70 per cent in 2000. An improved supply chain structure, government pressure through the organic action plan and a greater effort and investment from supermarkets to procure UK products are all quoted by the report as reasons for the reduction in reliance of organic foods from abroad.

Scotland remains the nation with the greatest area of organically managed land at 58 per cent of the UK total. A figure that is set to grow as the Scottish Executive published an organic action plan in February 2003 which included a target that 70 per cent of sales of indigenous organic produce should be sourced from Scotland.

The south west is still the UK's leading organic region, over 1,000 organic farms are based in the area, accounting for a quarter of the country's total.

The Welsh organic shopper appears to be the strongest supporters of local farmers. According to the survey, 81 per cent said they would be more likely to buy if the product was of Welsh origin and 72 per cent of these consumers would also be willing to pay more.

So is this enough? Despite revealing a clear rise in the UK's commitment to organic food products, and highlighting moves by the UK government to raise organic production, the Soil Association warns that there is still a long way to go, notably at the beginning of the chain.

"The future for organic food is potentially very bright. The market is growing and imports are down because quality and availability of homegrown food is going up all the time.

Support must not only mean buying UK products but also paying organic farmers a fair price which covers the cost of production. There are currently some clear examples where this is not happening,"​ said the Soil Association's director.

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