Looking at recent market data, it appears organic food continues to lose market share in the UK and has experienced falling volumes for the third year in a row.
While one can quibble about the precise data, it would seem many consumers’ views of organic produce have materially adjusted since the UK economy entered more difficult times in 2007. Accordingly, and understandably, food retailers and not just the big four have cut their space and commitments to ‘organic’. This is a shame there’s a lot to commend in the organic ‘movement’.
It is hard to know whether or not this poor market performance from organic lines reflects a simple change in consumers’ overall perceptions of the qualities and values of such products, or whether it is just the case that too much organic food is simply too expensive. We sense the reality probably lies between the two and, to put it bluntly, in the real world too much organic produce on sale does not merit its premium price (if it did, volumes would not be so down!).
More broadly than organic, we sense ‘green’ has also slipped back in many British consumers’ purchasing priorities, not least because of confusing messages from the scientific community on global warming or is it now climate change?
Highly publicised dodgy practice by higher level research institutes has also done a lot of damage to the environmental movement as, we suspect, have two mini ice-ages in the UK in the past couple of years. Such a prevailing mindset could be dangerous in the long run as the globe heats up and necessary behavioural change does not take place.
While matters green seem less important to British consumers these days, as measured by their consumption patterns, other ‘issues’ have sustained relevance. Animal welfare, personal care and wellbeing appear to have maintained and indeed gained importance in consumers’ minds, with demand patterns remaining firm even in straitened times.
Within these dynamic contexts there may be lessons here for the organic movement to draw upon and to do so quickly. Make food products that taste good, look after animals and sell goods that fit in with people’s real priorities.
Additionally, as the UK consumer depression continues, take a realistic view as to what the market is prepared to pay.