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UK organic sector receives EU funds for promotions

By Jess Halliday , 02-Jul-2010

The EU has agreed to match almost £1m funding raised by the UK organic sector to promote the benefits of organic food and farming to consumers over the next three years.

The organic sector launched a campaign to draw pledges from organic groups and enterprises in the UK two years ago. The EU operates an annual scheme to match pledges from member states to promote the advantages of agricultural products hailing from the EU, and especially those with strong arguments for quality, hygiene, food safety, nutrition, labelling, animal welfare or environment-friendliness of their production.

While other EU countries such as Italy, France and Denmark have received funding in the past, earlier bids from the UK, which were from individual organisations rather than industry-wide, were not accepted.

The £2m total funding enables a consumer-oriented campaign to get underway by the end of 2010 to raise awareness of the benefits of organic food and farming.

According to the Soil Association, sales in the UK’s organic food and beverage market were worth £1.84bn in 2009, 12.9 per cent less than a year earlier, while the organic market grew in Europe as a whole.

Huw Bowles, chairman of the Organic Trade Board, told FoodNavigator.com that the recession has “undoubtedly” been a factor, but that year-on-year decline seems to be slowing.

“It is interesting to note that in other European and Western countries, sales are growing,” he said. Australia, for instance, has seen double digit growth, and France, Germany and the US have reported expansion too.

The campaign will focus on the benefits of organic food and farming for health, animal welfare, and the environment. Although a much-publicised study commissioned by the Food Standards Agency questioned health benefits of consuming organic produce, Bowles said the industry is “undeterred”, and is still digging into that report to see how the researchers came up with a conclusion that is at odds with that of other agencies around the world.

He added that the FSA report did not cover pesticide residues, the absence of which is a strong motivator for organic purchasing.

Creative input

As part of its EU bid preparation the coordinators received pitches from a number of creative agencies to handle the campaign, and it selected Haygarth.

Bowles said that rather than being preachy and patronising, the campaign will “get existing organic customers to explain why they buy organic”.

The EU finding will be administered by the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). It is expected that the campaign managers will be in a position to commit spending in September, with the first adverts appearing in late 2010 or early 2011.

In the meantime, however, public relations and digital marketing aspects will get underway.

Pledgers

More than 80 organisations involved in organic food and farming have pledged sums towards the promotional campaign, including major retailers Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

Bowles said the response has been “very good”, although it was “tough getting started”. He hopes that organisations that were sceptical about the EU matching funds will now be reassured and that more contributions would still be welcomed to make the campaign even more extensive.

The coordinating team behind the bid was made up of Catherine Fookes of Sustain, Finn Cottle of the Soil Association, and Huw Bowles of the Organic Trade Board.