Organic market booming in the UK

The organic food market is growing at twice the rate of the general grocery market, a recent report from the Soil Association has revealed.

Findings from the Organic Food and Farming Report 2004 show that retail sales of organic food are currently worth around £1.12 billion, and the organic food market is expanding by around £2 million every week.

England’s southern counties are the biggest organic enthusiasts, and farmers in the South West hold the most organic licenses at 1,302. This is almost double the number in the South East and is also, on average, around four times as many as are found in most other British regions.

But although the South West houses one fifth of all organic farms and food companies in the UK, Scotland still has over half of all the UK’s organic land.

Consumers were also increasingly turning to farmers and buying produce directly from them, through box schemes, farmers’ markets and farm shops. Furthermore, the amount of organic food sold through supermarkets has actually fallen by 1% for the second year running.

“The organic market is thriving and is being driven by consumers who want to buy fresh, local, good-quality seasonal food directly from the farmer,” Patrick Holden, the director of the Soil Association, stated. “Leading supermarkets must take note of the public’s wishes and increase the amount of locally sourced organic food in store, which should come from small and medium sized farms.”

Poultry continues to be the fastest growing area of organic livestock, with organic chicken sales increasing by 30%, despite relatively little promotion by the supermarkets.

Organic baby food also saw a rise of almost 6% in sales over the last year, compared to a slight decline in the non-organic baby food market. Nearly half of all baby food sold in the UK is now organic.

These figures were a clear indication that people living in the UK were becoming much more concerned about what goes into their food, and therefore their bodies, according to the Henry Doubleday (HDRA) Organic Association.

“We believe the British public is turning to organic food because they are reacting against the junk food culture and they want to know where their food has come from,” HDRA chief executive Dr Susan Kay-Williams told edie. “And this is particularly true for the parents of young children.”

The Soil Association’s report also confirmed that leading retailers such as Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose had considerably reduced their reliance on imports, and were now stocking far more organic food that had been produced by UK farmers.

However, the organisation warned that: “slashing the price of organic products to expand sales does not work convincingly and can have serious consequences for producers.”

By Jane Kettle

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