Organic fruit and veg

Sir: In response to Simon Williams’ letter ‘Austerity and Organics’ (21 March, p26), be so kind as to declare your colours when commenting on industry matters. Our advertising copy reads ‘one way to reduce your exposure to pesticides is to eat organic foods’ and this statement is supported by government’s data from PRiF showing as much as 46% of the non-organic food we consume contains residues of one or more pesticides. This figure has increased every year and has almost doubled since 2003 when it was 25% (data to 2013). 

More worryingly, around 19% of foods tested now test positive for multiple residues. The debate around the safety of pesticides continues to rage, but in the meantime consumers who take an interest in the topic are voting with their feet with the market for organic growing 4% last year to £1.85bn. The trend is both local (UK) and global and is driven by consumers concerns and desire to choose food that is natural, good for the environment and that maintains strong animal welfare standards. Mr Williams should be applauding a campaign that is actually supporting farmers and is in fact helping drive growth for their products through clear communication of key messages about organic food and drink.

The money for the campaign, I would add, has been fronted by members of the industry (not UK taxpayers) and match-funded by European funds, all of which has been spent in the UK market - a rather good outcome for the British by anyone’s standards. 

Aside from the investment in our country, the campaign fund and growth in organic food have other beneficial outcomes. There are wider benefits in encouraging the sale of British produced organic goods facing global competition; promoting sustainable jobs (organic farms offer higher levels of employment); and achieving a reduced ecological footprint, as well as encouraging collaboration with sector partners on joint market development and promotional activities. Let’s leave the last word to the organic consumer. To farmers, retailers and producers interested in selling to an increasingly dynamic and engaged customer, 48% of UK households (12.7 Million) claim to have bought any organic food in the last year and 35% (9.3 Million) buy at least one of eight categories monthly. Our customers are likely to be younger, (aged 20 - 44), have kids and be working. They are absolutely passionate about food and more likely than the national average customer to care about health and are more interested in food values and prepared to pay for those values irrespective of income. If they “get it” they are in.

The market is in a really strong growth phase and forecast to strengthen. Market penetration grew by 8% last year and consumers are relatively new to the market. 65% only entered the market in the last 5 years and a third - 33% - in the last two years. Levels of consideration amongst non-buyers is high at over 50%.

The global market for organic grew by 12% last year to around €50 Billion with 37.5 million hectares of certified agricultural land - hardly niche and pretty buoyant with a young, informed and engaged customer base. It is a good place to be.

Paul Moore, chair, Organic Trade Board