Growth of Britain’s organic market is being hampered by supply problems, with local growers unable to meet surging demand, say analysts.
Research at Mintel suggests that most buyers of organic food want to buy produce grown in the UK but they are unable to find locally grown products.
Seven in ten Britons have bought organic produce over the last year, according to Mintel’s consumer research, and sales of organic food are now worth £1.5 billion, up by some 70 per cent since 2002.
But during this time, a growing awareness of food miles has increasingly shifted people’s focus towards locally sourced organic produce and as a result imported varieties now account for just 30 per cent of the market (down from 70 per cent back in 2002).
“People who buy organic tend to also be more concerned about the environment and therefore more likely to prefer locally grown food,” said David Bird, senior market analyst at Mintel.
Surging sales of organic box schemes demonstrate the demand for locally grown produce. Sales of organic boxes – a box filled with organic, seasonal produce grown by local farmers – have more than doubled in the last two years alone, with the market now worth some £150 million.
But Mintel says a dramatic shift towards British organic food has created serious supply problems for the organic industry and is holding the market back from achieving its full potential.
“The lengthy conversion process from regular to organic farming takes several years to complete. Because of this many producers have not been able to react quickly to satisfy the growing demand for home grown organic food. And this has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the growth of the market,” said Bird.
Helen Browning, director of Food and Farming at the UK’s main certifier of organic products, the Soil Association, agreed that there is a shortage in UK grown supplies but she said this underlines the opportunity for farmers.
“The significant short-fall in UK grown organic cereals is a major concern, forcing greater reliance on imports for livestock feed – but of course, it is also a major opportunity for current non-organic cereal farmers to convert and supply a guaranteed and growing market.”
The Soil Association is also attempting to phase out imported organic fruits and vegetables, with plans to introduce tougher criteria for exporters to gain a certification for the UK market.
Bird predicts that British interest in local organic food is “only likely to increase”.
The Soil Association says it is working to help farmers meet the increase in demand and to encourage more farmers to convert to organic.
As new producers slowly enter the market and more land becomes available for organic growing, the market is expected to increase in value by some 54 per cent over the five years to 2012, breaking through the £2 billion mark by 2011, according to Mintel.
The Soil Association says however that Mintel’s figures are conservative, and organic products are already at this level, with a sustained market growth rate of 22 per cent throughout the year.
Organic meat in particular is expected to see strong demand, with forecast growth of around 71 per cent in the next five years – the fastest of any sector.
Organic meat guarantees higher animal welfare standards and recent coverage of negative aspects of conventional farming methods on British TV programmes is expected to boost demand even further.
“Consumers are set to think more about the meat they buy following Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall controversial and highly emotive TV programmes highlighting intensive poultry farming,” said Bird.
Consumers say they want to buy organic foods because of concerns about the environment and health as well as continuing wariness of GM and pesticide use. Many people also think organic food is healthier and tastes better.