19 January 2021
Intercropping for sustainability

Two-day Conference with AAB, DIVERSify and ReMIX at Reading University

6 September 2021
Organic World Congress 2021

New date! Postponed from September 2020

3 July 2020
Environmental Land Management: consultation reopens

Interactive online seminars throughout July

29 June 2020
Benefits and challenges of herbal or diverse leys

Opportunities for farmer involvement

29 April 2020
Tim Bennett is the new Chair of ORC

Former NFU president takes on chairmanship of Organic Research Centre

Market opportunities

When compared with equivalent EU economies, the UK has only a retail market share of 1.5% against an average of 3.43%. What is happening elsewhere, in the UK market and with UK organic consumers?

The organic prizeHow do we secure markets and help UK businesses maximise their opportunities across the supply chain?

Session chaired by Martin Sawyer (Soil Association) featuring Roger Kerr (OF&G), Paul Moore (Organic Trade Board) and Lee Holdstock (Soil Association)

The Organic Prize workshop.

The first presentation by Roger Kerr based on data from FIBL clearly highlighted that, compared to our neighbours and global trends, the organic market in the UK is lagging behind other countries. From a position of leadership at the start of organic movement as illustrated by Eve Balfour, the UK is now falling further behind.

Lee Holstock’s presentation was based around the data from the Organic Market Report, interesting for example to see that organic is over-indexing in on-line sales, but also in herbal teas, pulses, fresh soups. Consumers can be segmented according to their engagement with organic, but also according to how price sensitive they are. There is a low understanding among consumers about what organic certification means. He also reminded us that the Soil Association has worked on common messages, including some myth-busters, such as organic is always free-range.

Paul Moore reminded us the organic consumers are all of us, organic consumers can be found in all demographics and around the UK. The higher sales observed in the South might mainly reflect the much-better availability of organic products in the shops in the South. A strong emphasis on consumer segmentation could encourage 'false' targeting and thus ignoring potential future customers. Organic is in a good place, but one challenge to overcome is to establish a better mental understanding that buying organic is OK.

Key conclusions:

  • The fact that UK lagging behind also presents an opportunity for a step change.
  • The encouraging to see that the organic sector is working much better together, which does make us all stronger.
  • Communicating the existence and rigour of organic certification would be useful to overcome issues of mistrust in the general food industry.
  • Could a common organic label in the UK help unlock this potential and make it easier for consumers to find organic?

Future trade opportunities

Chaired by Christopher Stopes (EcoS Consultancy), featuring Roger Kerr (OF&G), Paul Moore (Organic Trade Board) and Lee Holdstock (Soil Association)

This session looked at how we can begin to capitalise on current market opportunities. How do we move forward and what do we need to do to move the various market opportunities for- ward in the UK? The session drew on the framework of the English Organic Action Plan (EOAP) to consider current and future trade options

Lee Holdstock

  • Export trade provides a role for reducing risk and expanding business portfolio, and there potential for market development when we benchmark with other world economies
  • Challenges for developing export trade are: Brexit uncertainty; cost of market entry; lack of detailed market information; regulatory equivalence; and price comparability on foreign markets.
  • Moving forward will require data capture, targeting markets, building export capability, and building a program of support.
  • There is a need for guidance and promotion of export finance initiatives that are available but not commonly known about, particularly smaller organic businesses.

Roger Kerr

  • We need to build domestic supply chains, through working with key businesses, and collaborating as a sector, something that could be led by the OTB.
  • There is a need to identify and understand key risks in critical product categories with large scope for growth, such as the cereal sector where much work can be done to grow export opportunities
  • Investment in infrastructure and efficiency is important, and we should ask do we currently have the necessary infrastructure to grow
  • We also need to encourage increased retailer engagement in organic, particularly through specialist independent outlets or at supermarket scale, as we lag behind other countries in this respect
  • We must also ensure the quality and integrity of imports, to build trust assurance and address issues of equivalence. Stakeholders in Europe have suggested that the UK is less rigorous on regulation

Paul Moore

  • The UK organic industry is too big to ignore, and its value extends beyond just sales to additional value put back into the market e.g. putting value back into the (ecological) system and the value chain
  • The organic sector is flexible, nimble, and small enough to manoeuvre, which is to our advantage
  • Organic has also proven to be led by determined and committed businesses, and the sector has developed with little/poor government support
  • UK organics has large potential when looking at other similar countries in Europe

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

  • There is a need to engage more with industry and develop a pull, starting from retailers and influence they have in supply chains, especially in the food and drink sector
  • The organic sector needs cash to invest in research, policymaking and lobbying government, such as learning how policy can positively impact sector from other countries’ governments. Applications for trade cost money with no guarantee of approval.
  • There is also need cash for communications, and communicating organic is complex and essential for sector success.

Action points

  • There must be a representative for the sector as a whole in the UK, to act as a medium for receiving European funding for implementing programme, and that is a neutral industry body that is not a commercial. This is currently the OTB and it is not suggested that this should change. This body will also play the role of how to distribute the cash, and how to decide this, which should be discussed and decided among the sector.
  • The organic sector needs to make a case to AHDB to build the sector through levy body through knowledge and network sharing, and having conversations to see what can be done. This could enable the targeting of areas that can add the most value to the sector.
  • It is critical for success that an Organic Market Data Observatory is established, so that the sector knows what is available and where, and what the status of stocks, to be able to better manage supply and demand, for export as well as the domestic market

‘O’ is for Opportunity: Business models with a difference

Chaired by Paul Moore (Organic Trade Board) featuring Anna Elliot (Eversfield Organic), Freddie Watson (Organic Pantry) and Emma Robinson & Ian O’Reilly (Gazegill Organics)

A practical session for all parts of the supply chain, learning from businesses who are taking organic to the market successfully. We heard how different businesses successfully sell organic products into a broad range of markets - from farm gate and independents to supplying the large multiple retailers and direct to consumer

The short introduction by Paul Moore highlighted the increase in organic food consumption during the last years, and the need to find ways to reach and target new potential consumers.

Anna Elliot described Eversfield Organic farm and its marketing approach, characterised by the use of a number of alternative sale channels (e.g. on-farm sale, box scheme, on-line sale) targeting different consumer segments. She stressed the importance of communicating the principles of organic farming and its benefits, as consumers’ knowledge is still very limited, and the need to target different consumers (for example through convenience products, as consumers have increasingly less time to prepare/cook food and eat).

Freddie Watson described the marketing approach at the Organic Pantry, providing customers a wide range of organic fruits and vegetables from the farm itself and from farms all over the UK and Europe. They also supply over several schools and nurseries working in the Food for Life Scheme.

Key conclusions:

  • Consumer knowledge of organic is still very limited
  • The organic sector needs to invest in high quality production as well as other aspects including efficient delivery and constant communication in order to build trust
  • Through public procurement organic food can be promoted in a more affordable way to a larger number of consumers, but it is depending on public funding (so no totally reliable source of income for the farmer)