According to the latest Soil Association Annual Report, organic product sales fell 1.5% in the UK in 2012 after a 3.7% fall in 2011. As disposable income continues to drop, it may come as no surprise to see shoppers turning away from costly organic products.
Yet despite the economy, RSPCA Freedom Food products have seen a 30% increase in sales over the past two years and Fairtrade product sales have jumped by 19% in the past 12 months alone, with annual sales now worth over £1.57bn.
So what is going wrong in organic and can anything be done to restore consumer confidence? One organic manufacturer that might have the answer is Yeo Valley, the biggest organic dairy company in the UK, which despite the overall decline in the organic market saw its sales jump 6.6% in 2012.
Yeo Valley has no doubt benefited from strong brand recognition and a reputation for producing high-quality products, but it has also won over customers with its strong support for British dairy farming and high animal welfare. Another key factor bringing in new customers is its recent decision not to allow the culling of badgers on any of its farms, under the proposed pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire this summer.
As public opposition to the badger cull continues to grow, and with one in three shoppers buying organic products because they consider them to be kinder to animals, the wider organic movement would be wise to follow Yeo Valley’s example.
The Soil Association should refuse to certify organic products from badger cull farms and should give its strong support to steps being taken to expand the vaccination of badgers as an alternative policy.
By taking this step, the Soil Association will not only stop shoppers asking retailers to label products from badger cull farms, it will open the door to a hike in product sales as millions of people seek organic badger-friendly foods. With own-label organic sales falling 11.2% in 2012, this could provide a major boost to the organic sector at a critical time. If it wishes to retain public trust, it must oppose the badger cull.
Dominic Dyer is policy adviser at Care for the Wild International