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UK Organic Markets – Trends and Opportunities

The UK organic market has been difficult, but we are seeing some indication of change. The main aim of the session was to give an up-to-date overview of recent trends in the development of the UK organic market and compare this information from other European countries. This session was organised by the Organic Research Centre (ORC) in conjunction with the Soil Association
Susanne Padel (ORC): chair.

Session summary

The Soil Association has changed its data supplier from Kantar to Nielsen, who record sales data from supermarkets rather than a household panel survey. Previously baby food was one of the few areas to show growth and the sector continues to hold its own. The poultry sector is showing an improvement, but after a very bad year in 2012.

Tesco is showing a fall in organic market share while Sainsbury and Waitrose are showing an increase. Online sales continue to grow, particularly through Ocado. Product and category penetration has room to improve, but this could be limited by availability.

Looking at the international picture, the US accounts for 44% of the world market, compared to the UK’s 4%. The growth in the number of young people buying organic is consistent with the experience of Germany, where the market for organic products is growing strongly as it is other large EU member states. Organic sales are holding up well in France, possibly due to the market share of independent retailers who have a strong organic identity and offer a wider range of organic produce. The greater availability is manifesting in higher sales.

Fair Trade has suffered from the downturn in the same way as Organic and is also now following them out of recession. The UK market appears to be less convinced by the nutrition claims for organic food, which is not helped by the ban on the use of the EU slogan ‘Good for nature - Good for you’ which can and has been used in other countries.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Sales of organic product are driven by quality and availability and are not necessarily limited by price alone.
  • Growth in German market may be a result of the integrated development of production and retailers (such as specialist organic shops).
  • It may be easier to get finance for investment in growing markets.
  • Biggest single factor in propensity to buy organic is education, but this is linked to income.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Finn Cottle (Soil Association): UK market performance and comparison to other European markets

This session will consider the most up to date performance of the UK organic market and the characteristics of the UK organic consumer: given that most other European organic markets have continued to experience good growth over the last few years, the presentation will also review this performance and try to identify the key dynamics of the French and German markets as well as looking at organic consumer motivations in those countries