Farmer connections push organic sales up 10% this year

November 15, 2004, as reported by just-food.com: Sales of organic food in the U.K. are up 10 percent over last year--a pace twice that of the general grocery market. According to figures released today by the UK’s Soil Association retail sales of organic food are now worth £1.12bn (US$2.08bn) and growing by £2m a week.

The Soil Association’s Organic Food and Farming Report 2004 also showed that the farmer is an important reason for the increase. The proportion of organic food sold through the supermarkets has fallen by 1% for the second year running. Increasingly, consumers are turning directly to farmers: sales through box schemes, farmers’ markets or farm shops have soared by 16% and are now worth £108m a year.

Scotland continues to have over half of all organic land in the UK, while the Southwest of England is home to over a fifth of all organic farms and food companies.

The popularity of organic baby food continues to grow, with sales rising by nearly 6%, compared to a slight decline in the non-organic baby food market. Nearly half of all baby food sold is now organic.

Around a million more organic chickens were sold last year, increasing sales by 30% to a total of 4.5 million birds. This was despite relatively little promotion by the supermarkets. The Soil Association predicts that organic poultry will continue to be the fastest growing area of organic livestock in the coming year.

Almost no organic chicken is imported, compared with 10% of non-organic chicken, but this is not a reflection of the organic market in general. Although imports of organic food have steadily reduced over the last few years, the Soil Association found that imports have remained static at 56% in 2003-04. A fifth of the organic meat sold in the UK is imported, while potatoes, carrots, onions, apples and pears are still being imported by some leading retailers even when in season here. This is despite a target set by the Government to encourage retailers to ensure that imports fall to 30% by 2010.

“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. The 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,” said Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association.

The Soil Association says that Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have done the most to reduce their reliance on imports and stock more organic food from UK farmers. However, the organisation warned that slashing the price of organic products to expand sales can have serious consequences for producers.

“If supermarket buyers pay their suppliers significantly less, the small, mixed family farms that are the bedrock of the organic movement can no longer afford to supply them,” said Holden.