There is no doubt that the organic market in the UK has had a difficult few years, but some significant shifts seem to be taking place. Looking at the recent Kantar Worldpanel data, it would appear the market is still in decline. However, further digging throws up a more complex picture.
The recent Soil Association Organic Market Report showed that organic sales are growing in all channels except in-store at the mults. Growth was recorded though online sales, foodservice and catering, indie stores and direct marketing. Furthermore, organic exports were growing, as were sales of organic produce in mainland Europe, the US, Asia and South America - in fact organic sales were growing pretty much everywhere.
So, is the UK still the exception? Our most recent data suggests we may not be. The Soil Association is proud to work with thousands of organic farmers, growers and processors. In the past 12 months, the sales of the 1,500 food processors we work with have increased by nearly 2%. This figure is not based on a sample but on £1.5bn of organic sales.
“There is a more informed, food-aware younger generation”
Another change seems to be in who the organic consumers are. A number of recent reports looking at consumer habits have highlighted a move towards organic purchasing. In particular, there appears to be an emergence of a more informed, concerned and food-aware younger generation. As IGD noted, “shoppers aged under 35 are twice as likely to want organic food as those over 35” and “younger shoppers are more concerned with ethics, the environment and animal welfare”.
Exclusive market research commissioned by Key Note shows that the highest penetration of adults who agree that organic farming is better for the environment or animal welfare is in the 20 to 24 year-old and 25 to 34 year-old age groups - at 95.6% and 89.8% respectively.
Despite a few years where organic food and farming has been seen as controversial or too complicated, it seems these younger shoppers are connecting ethics, the environment and animal welfare with organic food.
Organic does not have exclusive rights on good farming. However, it is a mark that provides a guarantee to consumers that the food has been produced with low inputs, environmental sensitivity and high animal welfare standards.
The US and mainland Europe are seeing rapid growth of a more informed consumer who wants to know what is behind the label. The signs are that this is now spreading to the UK. I hope the UK will quickly catch up: maybe Organic September is a good time for retailers and food businesses to try and engage with this newly emerging organic consumer.
It is also a good time to celebrate the best of UK’s organic food and farming. The forthcoming 2012 Organic Food Awards have been won by some amazing producers creating food, cosmetics and textiles of the very highest quality. Give them a try.
All our evidence points to a very bright future for the organic market. In this, as with many things, it appears we may have lots to learn from the younger generation.