The UK Soil Association released its Organic Market Report 2011 in early April and revealed that while 2010 was a tough, there are signs that the rate of decline seen over the last two years has slowed. Sales of organic products fell 5.9% to £1.73 billion (pounds) in 2010 and Soil Association deputy director Roger Mortlock said the outlook for 2011 is cautiously optimistic. “Despite fragile consumer confidence in the wider economy, the report shows positive signs of resilience and recovery for the organic sector overall. The biggest success stories were sales of organic beef (up 18%), organic baby food (up 10.3%) and organic textiles (up 7.8%),” he said.

The definitive guide to organic trade in the UK, the Organic Market Report shows that shoppers spend more than £33 million a week on all things organic, and that 86% of households now buy organic products. Dairy products and fresh fruit and vegetables are the most popular categories, accounting for 30.5% and 23.2% of sales respectively.
Although sales through multiple retailers fell by 7.7%, to £1.25 billion, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer anticipate modest growth for 2011, while Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and the Co-operative predict level sales year on year. Multiple retailing accounted for 72.3% of the organic market in 2010. The most successful multiple retailer was Waitrose with total organic sales down 0.5% and sales of own label organics up 0.9%. This was helped by the 9.2% sales growth since the September launch of 230 Duchy Originals organic lines from Waitrose.

Sales through independent outlets, including box schemes, mail order, farm and health food shops, farmers markets and catering establishments accounted for the remaining 27.7% of the market and fell by 0.75% to an estimated 479.8 million pounds. Home delivery box schemes and mail order sales grew by 1% to 155.8 million pounds.

Organically managed land decreased by 0.6% to 738,709 hectares and now represents 4.2% of UK farmland, equivalent to more than the combined area of Somerset and Wiltshire. The number of UK organic producers fell by 4.2% to 7,567 in 2010, from a record high of 7,896 the previous year.

“There is powerful evidence that consumers who care about the diverse benefits of organic will stay loyal, even during these tough economic times. Given the current uncertainties in the UK and global economy, it would be rash to make any predictions for the future organic market. But the instability caused by climate change, population growth and resource depletion mean that business as usual in food and farming is not an option,” said Mr Mortlock.
The Soil Association was one of the groups that supported the new organic promotion campaign, ‘Why I love organic’ and said it hopes the campaign will contribute to a greater understanding of the benefits of organic food and farming with a knock-on impact on sales.