Organic product sales fell by 3.7% in the UK in 2011 to reach £1.67 billion pounds, the third year in a row they have declined, according to the latest organic market analysis by the Soil Association, driven by major supermarkets slashing the shelf space for organic food and drink.
The Soil Association – Britain's largest organic certifier said that while global sales of organic products continued to defy the economic downturn, growing by 8.8% in 2010 with growth continuing into 2011, the UK bucks the trend.
Global organic sales were valued at €44.5 billion.
Strong growth has continued in all other major European organic markets and in the US, the world’s leading organic market. Sales of organic products in China have quadrupled in the last five years, and Brazil is reporting an annual growth rate of 40%. Market analysts predict that organic sales in Asia will grow by 20% a year over the next three years.
However, in the UK, the main cause of the market’s overall decline was a 5% drop in multiple retail sales, which account for 71.4% of organic food sales. Reduction of choice, lack of communication about the reasons to buy organic products and a lack of investment in own-label organic ranges were cited by the Soil Association as the key factors behind this decline.
Despite the tough environment, there are a number of UK organic success stories including baby food (+6.6%); lamb (+16%); poultry (+5.8%) and cosmetics (+8.7%). Innovation in retail has benefited the sector with sales through box schemes, home delivery and mail order up by 7.2%.
Other key findings of the Soil Association’s Organic Market Report include:
• The growth in sales through box schemes, home delivery and mail order (up 7.2% to £167 million) meant that independent retail sales increased their share of the organic market to 28.6%.
• Waitrose saw sales decrease by 2.2% compared to a 9.5% drop in the combined sales of the other six leading multiple retailers.
• Local and direct sales of organic fruit and vegetables and supermarket sales of organic fruit held their own, despite a drop in sales of organic vegetables and salads through multiple retailers.
• Dairy products and fresh fruit and vegetables continue to be the most popular organic categories accounting for 29% and 23% of sales respectively.
• Outside the retail sector, the restaurant and catering sector grew by 2.4%. Notable successes in 2011 include an increased take-up of organic food in schools, nurseries and hospitals through the Soil Association-led Food for Life Partnership and Food for Life Catering Mark.
• UK organic land area decreased by 2.8% and represents 4.2% of farmland. The most encouraging picture was in England where the rate of conversion slowed but fully organic land area increased by 16%.
• 8 out of 10 households (83%) bought organic products in 2011.
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