Consumers drive organic food practices

By Anita Awbi

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cent Organic food

British food retailers and suppliers have developed a growing
commitment to domestically produced organic food, as consumers
insist on more environment-friendly production practices.

Recent consumer pressure to cut organic food miles has led to a greater working relationship between British retailers and farmers, as supermarkets strive to source fresh produce locally.

Sainsbury's, currently the UK's third largest chain, has seen demand for British organic milk soar by 80 per cent in 2005, and now encourages domestic farmers to convert to organic production.

It has promised suppliers it will contribute to organic conversion costs in a new three year scheme.

"We understand that many British farmers won't convert their land to organic because they do not have long-term reassurances from retailers,"​ Ruth Bailey from Sainsbury's said.

"In contrast to previous years, Sainsbury's is working to ensure that we give the farmers the commitments that they need."

And the UK's Soil Association organic charity said other retailers are planning ahead and working with their suppliers to ensure that more farmers convert to organic production too.

Of the organic staples sold in UK supermarkets, including apples, beef, onions and potatoes, 82 per cent are sourced from domestic farmers - up on last year's 76 per cent.

Retailers are realising that although demand for organic vegetables, dairy products and meat is soaring, consumers are increasingly looking at country of origin as a key decisive purchasing factor.

This follows recent publicity surrounding the food miles issue that has marred the reputation of the top four supermarkets Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrison's.

Last year Tesco, Asda and Morrison's were found to import huge amounts of organic pork and beef. But this year Tesco has increased its organic pork offering from 58 per cent to 74 per cent, and beef reached 71 per cent compared to 52 per cent last year.

Tesco's Sean McCurley, an organic meat buyer, told the Soil Association the company's "vision is to get to 100 per cent UK sourced."

But he added that "demand is growing at 60 per cent a year and there just isn't enough UK meat to keep up with it."

The Soil Association's latest figures show that organic food and drink sales grew by 11 per cent in 2004, topping £1.2bn. And 2005's results will be even bigger, it estimates.

But with these increased sales comes greater pressure on British farmers.

Just less than four per cent of UK farmland is managed organically. And unless retailers provide real guarantees they will support domestic organic produce across the board, many farmers are still reluctant to undergo the expensive conversion process.

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