Experts say that better product availability is helping to drive growth. A powerful organic marketing campaign, set up by growers and retailers, has also played a part. “Early indications show positive growth in the organic market in 2013, after around four years of decline – showing strong appetite among consumers for the environmental, animal welfare and health benefits of organic produce,” said Bob Sexton, chief executive of certification at the Soil Association.
“Not only is the sector back in growth, but businesses that carry the Soil Association organic logo are experiencing relatively buoyant year-on-year growth of 5.3%. There is great potential in the organic sector and, in particular, a growing public demand for organic and food logos that they can trust.”
Sexton said growth was led by dairy products, which are outperforming sales in the non-organic dairy sector. “Organic sales account for 5%, 7% and 5.3% respectively of all milk, yoghurt and eggs,” he said. Organic baby food still makes up more than 54% of all baby-food purchases.”
Latest growth figures from retail analysts Nielsen indicate that overall organic sales grew by just over 1% last year, valuing the UK organic market at £1.24bn.
Abel & Cole, the organic food supplier that came close to collapse when recession struck, released results last week showing it has emerged from huge debts to record a rise in turnover. Sales rose to £38m in the eight months to May 2013, a 24 per cent increase on the same period a year before.
Tesco reports sales of organic bananas are up 60%, while sales of other fruits, such as grapes and apples, have also shown double-digit growth. It says organic dairy products are enjoying a boom. Sales of organic feta cheese, for example, are up 95% at Tesco, while those of organic mature cheddar are up 45%. Organic whole milk sales are up 40% with semi-skimmed up 25%.
During the recession, price-conscious consumers switched from organic food as they sought to cut spending on groceries. But more competition in the organic market appears to be helping keep a lid on prices. Tesco’s organic buyer, Harriet Turnbull, said supermarkets were finding it difficult to source organic products to meet demand.
“As the popularity of organic food increases, the more we are able to support our growers and suppliers by investing in research to offer shoppers even better-tasting produce.”
Declining sales led to the creation in 2008 of the Organic Trade Board, a non-profit organisation of more than 120 producers and retailers, to promote the sector. “Rising interest in the quality of food, where it comes from, availability and an improving economy are major factors in the growth of organic,” said Paul Moore, its chairman.
“In addition, we are better at explaining organic benefits to consumers. This has all helped deliver the growth we are seeing now.” The Soil Association is due to release a report soon that will confirm that organic came back into vogue with consumers in 2013. During last year’s month-long “organic September” promotion, there was a 9% increase in sales.
Sales of organic food declined by 12% in 2010 and have been falling since. Growing consumer interest in how food is produced is being partly put down to recent food scares. It was reported yesterday that the results of 900 sample tests by councils in West Yorkshire found 38% of foods were mislabelled or not what they claimed to be.
“In February 2013, immediately after the revelations about horse meat, total supermarket organic sales increased to their highest level in nine months, indicating a growing desire among consumers for food that they can trust,” Sexton said.
“Our own research later in the year backed this up, with consumers telling us they wanted to know where their food was coming from. Organic food offers consumers a very high standard of product integrity, as well as the use of fewer pesticides, and better animal welfare.”
Independent and online retailers are also driving the organic renaissance. Home delivery box schemes are proving increasingly popular.
Shifting demographics are also a factor. Under-35s have significantly increased their spending on organics.