Sales of Organic Fresh Food Falling in the UK

soil organic photo

Image from Soil Association

Sales of organic fruits, vegetables, and meat are plummeting in the UK. In the past year they have fallen by 12.9% in all as cost-conscious shoppers watched their pennies. The independent sector has been hardest hit with farm shops and health food outlets' sales dropping by 17.7%. The supermarkets experienced a decline of 12.2%. Sales of boxed fruit and vegetables delivered to the home fell by 9.8%.

The good news is organic milk sales increased and sales of organic baby food grew by 20.8%. This is all courtesy of an annual report issued by the Soil Association, the Organic Market Report 2010. which provides a snapshot of consumer activity this past year in the organic sector.

baby food photo

The poor economy has had a huge effect on purchasing. When times are tough customers cut back on organic and supermarkets cut back on shelf space and brands.

The UK has a smaller population and a deeper and longer tradition of buying health foods than the USA so it is not clear how reflective the report is of American (and Canadian) shopping habits. However, the report, Organic Market Report 2010 is a gold-mine of information on organic food buying habits.

1. Who is the Average Consumer?
The sector relies on a committed core; just 9% of households (those who buy more than once a fortnight) are responsible for 56% of organic sales. Lower income customers accounted for 33% of money spent, and upper income 67%. Women are more concerned about price when making a food purchase than men. Men are twice as likely as women to buy organic products on a friend's recommendation. Older people are more likely than those under 40 to associate organic food with being better for the planet.

2. What are They Buying?

The three biggest categories of organic food are dairy, fruit and vegetable and fresh meat. Dairy sales fell by 5.5%, fruits by 14.8% and meat by 22.7%. For cost-conscious consumers, the price difference between organic and non-organic meats is far bigger than between organic and non-organic dairy products.

Some consumers have traded down to free-range chicken and eggs: still being concerned about ethical and environmental issues but not willing to pay the price.

veg box photo

Vegetable box businesses which deliver to the home have had mixed success. Some have lost sales during the economic downturn. Others report losing out to customers growing their own vegetables, while others report picking up business from the closure of small shops. There is strong customer loyalty to these dealers.

Farmers' markets have also been hit by the downturn. The Soil Association estimates the value of organic sales through farmers' markets to have been down 20% on the previous year.

Bread sales have declined: with the rise in price due to poor agricultural conditions, it is estimated that organic bread and bakery sales were down 39.8% on the previous year.

The biggest winner was organic baby food with sales increasing by 20.8%. Organic milk sales increased by 1% and sales of organic health and beauty products continued to grow.

3. What Does the Future Hold?
The Soil Association predicts that the organic market will return to growth in 2010, expanding by 2-5%. The supermarkets report that sales of organic vegetables are increasing again after more than a year of decline and they account for 73% of the organic market. Organic businesses are an optimistic lot and a survey of 28 leading organic businesses in the UK shows that 61% expect growth and only 7% anticipate a further decline in their sales in 2010.

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