Fruit and veg

New organic market report ‘disappointing’

Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson said huge interest in green issues has failed to boost organic sector despite offering ‘solutions’.

Leading organic farmer Guy Singh-Watson has called a 4.5 per cent growth in organic food sales “disappointing” as the huge rise in environmental awareness failed to translate into sales.

The figures were released as part of the new Organic Market Report, published yesterday (5 February) by the Soil Association, which predicted 2020 would be a “tipping point for the organic market”.

The overall market share of organic food has increased from 1.3 to 1.6 per cent since 2015, according to the Soil Association, and while growth outperforms the rest of the market, it remains a fraction of the market for non organic food.

“Given the huge rise in discussion of green issues over the last year and the solutions that organic farming can contribute, a 4.5 per cent growth in the UK organic market is disappointing and still leaves us trailing the European and North American markets,” said Singh-Watson, who set up organic veg box company Riverford in 1987.

The UK organic market is the ninth biggest in the world by value sales, behind the US, Germany, France, China and Italy as the top five. 

Organic label
Organic farming offers solutions to climate and other environmental concerns. 

“Marketing specialists will tell us (again) that we have failed to communicate the benefits in easily grasped soundbites. They are probably right but that could be down to a desire the tell the truth; ecology and the environment are seldom simple and lasting solutions are inevitably complex and site specific,” he said. 

Sales and market share aside, Singh-Watson said he was heartened by signs that agroecological principles are increasingly being adopted by the non organic farming sector.

“It is interesting that more and more of the principles of soil health and agroecology, long since embraced by organic farming, are being borrowed, in part at least, by the conventional farming industry. I would suggest the influence of organic farming has grown far more than 4.5 per cent,” he said.

Plant-based trend fails to boost produce

Organic eggs, poultry and wine saw the highest sales growth over the past year, while the biggest growth channel for organic was online and home delivery, with sales growing 11.2 per cent.

The huge interest in plant-based food has contributed to a spike in sales of organic chilled and deli foods (up 15.9 per cent), the Soil Association said, although organic fruit and veg saw sales fall by 2.4 per cent.

Searches on the Soil Association website for ‘organic box scheme’ were up by 174 per cent year on year to the end of 2019, while Ocado, the UK’s biggest organic online retailer, expanded its organic lines to over 4,500 and enjoying a 12 per cent sales increase.

Plant based fruit and veg
Interest in a plant-based diet has not boosted overall sales of organic fruit and veg. 

The major supermarkets saw sales of organic increase in 2019, up 2.5 per cent, and outpacing the overall market, despite their overall share of the UK’s organic market falling to 64.6 per cent, as other channels ate into their dominance.

Soil Association business development director, Clare McDermott, said: “With the climate crisis and British farming dominating the headlines, organic is more relevant than ever as a way for shoppers looking for simple choices to reduce their environmental impact.

“2019 was another exciting year for organic and 2020 will be a tipping point where organic becomes the go-to choice for shoppers who want to have a sustainable shopping basket,” she said.

Feeding the world with organic

Writing in the summary of the report, chief executive Helen Browning said the debate now needs to shift from ‘what we eat’ to ‘how we produce it’ and to recognise that organic farming systems are a big part of the solution.

“This is why the Soil Association has explored and promoted the model developed by IDDRI, a French policy research institute, which shows how an agroecological Europe could look,” she said.

“The IDDRI team used organic yields and techniques in their assumptions, and plan to do a similar exercise for the UK in 2020.

“The good news is that organic sales continue to grow well ahead of the overall market, and we expect this to continue.”


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  1. My thoughts, I was in a very large supermarket in Coventry the other day. They had no organic produce and I left empty handed. The only way to buy in these areas is online or starve, as online Organic is not an instant way to shop and requires the breaking of a habit of a lifetime. I crave to have a high Street of local organic and eco friendly producers – green grocer, grocer, delI, baker, butcher, off-licence., coffee shop. This may start small in a mini mart stylish and valued outlet. I think Brexit and the environmental crisis will be a driver for this. A great way to regenerate our High Streets.

  2. I’m lucky to have supermarkets selling organic veg nearby, BUT am often put off by (a) the fact they are always packed in plastic, and (b) the price. I don’t mind paying extra for organic but in some cases it is literally twice the price of the non-organic item right next to it. (We do have Riverford delivery once a fortnight though, which at least avoids most packaging and the produce is always good and fresh.)

  3. There is often the complaint that people find organic food too expensive. But by way of example if you look at say instant oats or these little pots of convenience oats and compare the 100g cost of the actual oats you could buy a box organic oats cheaper. Or do I spend my money on a bottle of Cola or organic kale. Isn’t a lot of what people choose to spend their money on. How much do people spend each month on alcohol, entertainment, cosmetics, prepared lunches etc?

  4. So agree about choices. Not everybody has them in Austerity Britain but plenty do. Maybe I was heavily influenced by my gran who was born in poverty in the East End of London. Think “Call the Midwife”
    I remember her looking at our actual bodies, arms, legs as we rolled about on the floor as young children. She commented we were “‘well made” – I realised as I got older that she had probably seen lots of kids in her own childhood who were scrawny from malnutrition -and easily succumbed to disease. And my parents always made sure healthy food came ahead of other things. So I’d rather buy organic and bother to cook than have ‘things in plastic’ and our daughter and son in law do the same. Our grandson looks very “well made”!

  5. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something which too few people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I stumbled across this in my hunt for something relating to this.
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