Producers urged to return to organic

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

UK organic sales rose by 2.8% to £1.79bn last year, according to the Soil Association
UK organic sales rose by 2.8% to £1.79bn last year, according to the Soil Association

Related tags: Organic farming, Organic food

Domestic producers must stop abandoning organic food or lose out to importers, as the category shows the first signs of UK growth in five years, the Soil Association has warned.

Figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed the number of organic producers and processors in the UK fell by 6.3% to 6,487 in December 2012. Land used to produce organic slumped from nearly 750,000ha in 2009 to 600,000ha in 2013, which was a 20% drop.

“2013 has seen a decline in the amount of agricultural land in the UK that is organic and we know that many farmers are concerned about the profitability of organic,”​ ceo of Soil Association certification Rob Sexton said.

Global sales reach £43bn

While UK farmers have moved away from organic, production across the world is on the rise with global sales reaching £43bn in 2012, the report showed.

“With global organic production on the increase, the threat is not that organic shelves will be empty, but that more of that shelf space will be taken up by imports if UK production falls short,” it​ said.

UK retailers and policy makers needed to support organic farmers by sourcing products from them in order to prevent imports from taking over, added Sexton.

However, demand for organic in the UK was on the rise as sales grew by 2.8% in 2013, following five years of annual decline, the report showed. The UK’s organic market is now worth £1.79bn compared to £1.64bn in 2013 and in the first four weeks of 2014 the sector grew by 2.5%, it added.

UK organic sales grew by 2.8%

Sales of meat, fish and poultry increased by 2.2%, while vegetables and dairy increased by 3.4% and 4.4% respectively. More than 50% of baby food bought in the UK was organic.

Sales of organic in independent retailers grew by 7% to nearly £10M a week and online sales grew by 10.4%.

Supermarket sales only grew by 1.2%, however, Sainsbury increased its sales of organic by 7%, closely followed by Waitrose at 6%. The most popular organic brands in supermarkets were Yeo Valley Organic, Green and Black and Rachel’s Organic, according to data from Nielsen.

Waitrose saw an increase in online sales of 44%, said Waitrose Duchy Originals brand manager Graham Cassie. Range was a big driver in sales of organic he said and added that online offered customers more information about their food, which is what consumers wanted when buying organic.

Meanwhile, Sexton said: “The message to supermarkets and other retailers and organic businesses is clear: if you make organic goods available and promote them well, consumers will respond by continuing to purchase the products they have confidence in.”

See the April issue of Food Manufacture​ for more information on the organic sector.

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