Predicted post-Brexit slump fails to materialise as UK organic market marches on

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The UK organic market looks to be weathering any post-Brexit uncertainty as figures suggest the industry is in rude health, with consumer perception and reassurance at the heart of growth, according to the Soil Association.

The certifying body published its annual report on the state of the Europe's organic industry today.

According to the report, organic sales achieved a growth rate of 7.1% and total organic product sales were worth £2.09bn (€246.1bn) in 2015-2016.

The results was in contrast to the non-organic grocery market, which declined by 0.6%.

Despite uncertain political changes, the report described a ‘buoyant’ organic farming scene with applications from organic producers to be Soil Association-certified up by 13.5% in 2015-2016.

There was more good news as land currently being converted to organic increased by 4.9%. This was offset, however, by the amount of land farmed organically in the UK continuing to decline by 5%.

Following the EU referendum, UK farmers are facing an uncertain future, said the report.

A degree of reassurance has come from the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which recently confirmed current levels of support, would continue until at least 2020.

“Farmers can take confidence in the fact that UK-produced organic products are highly regarded around the world so there are opportunities to export,” the report stated.

“There will also be more of an emphasis on buying British in coming years which could increase sales of organic agriculture at home.”  

Simon Crichton, Food, Farming and Trade Team manager at Triodos bank added that: “Although many would not have chosen the route of Brexit, with change comes opportunity in a variety of forms.”

“Increasing conventional food prices and export opportunities should favour more extensive sustainable production methods.”

“In addition, a review of farming practices has been a feature of many of our recent farming visits. They are delivering value before major changes are even decided at the political level.”

‘Consumers want authenticity and provenance’

Speaking at the Soil Association's organic market report launch in London, chief executive Helen Browning, outlined further reasons behind this growth.

“UK consumers continue to seek authenticity and provenance,” she said. “Organic fits that bill perfectly, as well as being their shortcut to healthy food choice.

“In addition, organic organisations and businesses are working collaboratively to develop consistent messaging around the benefits of organic.”

As well as the launch of new organic products and brands that include free-from foods, nut spreads, dairy substitutes, energy bars and drinks, the report highlighted the level of mistrust among consumers had risen.

“Media programmes, press coverage, and social media have prompted shoppers to relook at where their food comes from and how it has been produced,” it said. “Certification offers vital reassurance and integrity for organic.”

Other key drivers contributing to organic growth included an increase in choice, particularly online, where consumers were attracted to the broader range of innovative organic options.

The report predicted more prosperity for 2017 with organic sales forecasts expected to grow by at least 5% to reach around £2.2bn (€2.6bn) in market value.

If growth continued at current rates, the Association expected this figure to hit £2.5bn (€2.9bn) by 2020.

Supermarket supply

As well as an online presence, supermarkets were singled out as the biggest outlet of organic foods in the UK.

Collated data showed that sales grew by 6.1% during 2016 to total £1.4m (€1.6m). The market is currently dominated by Sainsbury’s (27% market share) and Tesco and Waitrose (24% each). These ‘big three’ collectively represent 75% of UK organic supermarket sales between them.

Top selling organic brands were also highlighted. Yeo Valley was placed top, followed by Rachel’s, Green and Black’s chocolate and Clipper teas.

Private label brands that made the list included Waitrose’s Duchy Organic and Sainsbury’s So Organic range.

Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association, outlined the year’s breakdown in product shares and the change compared to 2015-2016.

“This year dairy achieved a 29% share of the UK organic market - an increase of 2.2% compared to last year,” she explained.

“Fresh produce (23.5% market share – an increase of 10.3%) was next followed by baby food (10.3% market share – an increase of 5.3%).

Meat, fish and poultry fared slightly worse, achieving a market share of 10.1% - a decrease of -1% compared to 2015-2016.

Other produce that was down on last year included bakery and cakes with a market share of 1.4% - a change of -5.2% compared to 2015-2016.

Best of the rest

According to the report, Germany remained the largest organic market in Europe, growing by 11.1% this year to achieve 11.4% in global organic product sales.

The report targeted Sweden as a country that had a big organic presence but also a mismatch between production and the growth of the market. This could offer UK companies a ‘great opportunity to fill the gap.’

France came in second achieving a 7.3% share in organic market sales worldwide. This represented a growth rate of 14.6%. The UK’s slice of the market was 3.5% - a 7.1% growth rate compared to 2015-2016.

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