The battered organic sector took solace this month from news that the EU has approved funding for Organic UK a promotional campaign to reignite consumer interest on the sector.

Funding of £950,000 had already been pledged by 75 UK organisations including Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, Green & Black's, Rachel's and Yeo Valley. This will now be matched by the EU, providing a budget of £2m over three years.

"There will be some pre-Christmas press work this year, but the main campaign will break in January 2011," says project manager Catherine Fookes of Sustain. "Different treatments will cover different messages."

Some press advertising will target those who already buy organic, "reinforcing the idea that they are making the right decision", she says. Others will appeal to "dabblers and those who don't buy organic yet" by breaking the stereotype of organic shoppers as sandal-wearing hippies. The tone will have a lightness of touch that people won't have seen around organic before, promises Fookes.

One strategy will be to use consumers to spread the word via social networking, backed by PR targeting a largely hostile media. Huw Bowles, chair of the Organic Trade Board, agrees that the negative media coverage has had a massive impact.

"Even when you have a positive story, there seems to be a need in the media to give it a negative spin," he says. "Social networking is a better investment than just straight PR. We'll be getting consu­mers to talk to others about who they are and why they buy organic."

Success hinges on whether complex messages surrounding organic can be rendered in a simple, harmonised way. "We'll have to tackle price," Fookes concedes, "and explain why some organic produce is more expensive."

A similar three-year campaign in France boosted organic sales 20%, which is one reason why she believes Organic UK will work. Funding for the French scheme came exclusively from government, a source likely to dry up as the public sector suffers swingeing cuts. Crucially, this campaign also has private-sector backing.

"The whole organic industry is behind us on this," Fookes insists, "and they have a commercial interest in making it work. These companies will help amplify the camp­aign. They still have organic on their agenda."

Focus On Organic