Organic sales boast eighth year of strong growth in UK, but produce struggles

Organic vegetables

There's no slowing the surge in organic food ... but all numbers aren't rosy.

The Soil Association Certification’s Organic Market Report revealed recently the UK’s organic market is now worth £2.5 billion after a 4.5% growth in sales in 2019, with £200m spent each month on organic food and drink in the UK.

After eight years of growth, organic sales have reached their highest-ever value and are expected to be worth £2.5 billion a year by the end of 2020.

The report shows growth across all channels for organic, including supermarkets (+2.5%*), home delivery and online (+11.2%), foodservice (+8.3%) and independent retail (+6.5%), as demand for organic continues to increase across the UK.

Despite another positive year for organic, organic produce sales fell 2.4% in 2019. The report notes that the category was hindered by unsustainably low prices in non-organic. Despite these challenges, sales volumes remained steady.

Supermarkets’ overall share of the UK’s organic market fell 1% to 64.6%, as other channels ate into their dominance, notably online and home delivery, up 11.2%. Increasing numbers of shoppers turned to the internet in 2019 to choose from the wider ranges of low-impact organic products available, according to the report. 

Searches on the Soil Association website for “organic box scheme” increased 174% year on year. 2019 saw increased demand for local food and the report highlights the success of businesses that were able to meet this demand through vegetable and meat box schemes and farm-gate sales.

“We grow over 40 types of fruit and vegetables, selling direct to a hyper-local customer base through our box scheme and local farmers market," Nathan Richards, farmer of Troed y Rhiw a 23-acre farm in Wales said. "Despite market and Brexit uncertainty, we have seen strong growth in customer demand for organic, locally produced food with our box scheme numbers rising rapidly over the last year.”

The report highlights a growing number of farmers converting to organic, with Soil Association Certification data indicating a 12% increase in land-in-conversion to organic in 2019.

Almost a quarter of the amount the UK spends on organic in foodservice is through the Soil Association’s Food for Life Served Here. Now, £23.2 million is spent on organic through this scheme in schools, hospitals and other public settings, up from £19.5 million in 2018.

Overall, organic foodservice saw an 8.3% rise in sales.

“2020 is a year of opportunity for organic farmers and growers," Sophie Kirk, Business Development Manager at Soil Association Certification, said. "With growth happening across multiple routes to market, and public interest in sustainable farming on the rise as we exit the European Union and the Agriculture Bill goes through Parliament, there are huge opportunities for farmers looking to diversify their businesses to meet growing consumer trends for British, sustainable food."

To download the Organic Market Report 2020, visit: https://www.soilassociation.org/researchanddata

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