The double-digit growth years may be over but organic products continue to offer a holistic solution to the ethical shopper who understands the need for sustainable food and farming. Despite reports of abandonment of organic by the middle classes during the recession, there are many consumers who have stayed loyal.
It is true that the highly 'value-focused' trading environment of the past 18 months has acutely impacted the potential for organic sales. Organic has had to compete for shelf space and shopper attention while there have been drastic cuts in retail prices of non-organic products.
Although niche, however, the organic market is still worth more than £1.5bn in sales and covers every spectrum of the market. The industry has several thousand processors with expert knowledge of organic production built up over many years. This infrastructure and level of support shows organic is here for the long term. And in the shorter term there is one common purpose to inspire consumer interest in, and understanding of, the benefits of organic.
Like many other sectors, organic has had to be creative during the recession to maintain its customer base. Data studies suggest it is the heavyweight organic shoppers who are buying less often a sure sign they are cutting back spend or being more frugal, but by no means deserting organic choice.
Signs of recovery are reinforced by the much wider availability of organic fruit and veg in supermarkets. Produce is the hero category of organic products, yet it is a great challenge to convey a complex message of sustainable production at the front of store in an area that is devoid of truly differentiating point of sale material. However, suppliers are investing in simple promotions to help influence choice and remind 'occasional' customers of available organic products.
The resilience of some categories has provided insight into future potential. Babyfood has continued to drive share and grow sales, suggesting that organic has continued to strike the right chord with young mums who want to give their babies the best start in life. Coupled with innovation and product development, this sector has increased to more than £100m, which is greater than the size of the total organic market in 1993.
The perceived extra cost of organic has been a major deterrent in the recession. Organic is unfairly considered to be too expensive and this perception continues.
Consumers need to be encouraged to look more closely at pricing in order to realise that organic is often cheaper than the main brand in each sector, but with significant added value.
The organic industry is passionate, and the combined energy and financial support of more than 70 companies is supporting a major generic advertising campaign explaining the benefits of organic that will commence later this year and is part-funded by the EU.
The Organic Trade Board is leading this campaign, which is aimed at simplifying the many reasons to buy organic whether your motivation is animal welfare, the environment or avoiding additives in your food. And the good news is that the data on organic sales already confirms that a corner has been turned and the dip of 2009 has ended.
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