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First signs of organic sector recovery?

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn , 24-Sep-2013

The UK organic sector is showing the first signs of recovery with 0.6% sales growth after a tough slog through the recession, according to new data from Nielsen and the Soil Association.

The latest figures – independently produced by Nielsen for The Soil Association - show total organic product sales edging up 0.6% over the past year from £1.22bn to £1.23bn. The news comes as the Soil Association releases new advertisement guidance for organic producers.

The guidelines detail the statements that producers and manufacturers can make when marketing organic products.

Consumer confidence and priorities

In 2008 organic food and drink sales reached a peak of £2.1bn in the UK, but they took a hit during the recession as consumer confidence grew and customers shifted shopping priorities . Last year organic sales dropped by 1.5%, and a further 3.7% the year before that.

“The market is definitely in a more positive position that it has been for the last 3 years. This is partly due to the impact of 'Horsegate' in Feb this year when consumers reappraised their shopping habits and appeared to trade up to higher levels of product assurance and integrity,” Finn Cottle, trade consultant at the Soil Association told FoodNavigator.

“Organic brands are driving the increases in the market through innovation, promotions and good communication to customers. There is great potential for them to grow further now that the market is in 'turnaround': customers who buy into these brands will be reassured even more by the organic stamp of assurance alongside the other brand benefits on offer,” Cottle said.

What can you say?

The Soil Association report, called 'What You Can Say When Selling Organic Food', is a new guide to communicating what the association suggests are the evidence based benefits of organic products.

“Some of the statements have been available for use previously but organic manufacturers and retailers may not have been aware: much of the content is new and the result of many years of work,” Cottle told FoodNavigator.

Regarding these new statements Cottle said: "We are very pleased that we can say with confidence that the UK government has said that organic farming is better for wildlife, causes lower pollution from sprays, produces less carbon dioxide and fewer dangerous wastes."

“We are hopeful that the industry will work with these statements to consistently communicate the benefits of organic food and drink: so far they have been received exceptionally well,” she added.

Areas of growth

The Nielsen report showed that within this sector growth certain products shone through. Organic milk grew by 2.2% with a retail value £143m- the highest total value across all organic products.

Elsewhere tea and yoghurts demonstrated sound growth year-on-year with tea growing by 19% and yoghurt by 9%. Organic babyfood stood its ground, holding 57% of trade within its category.

Cottle noted retailers like Waitrose and Ocado who have “remained committed to providing organic choice” despite a difficult market and box schemes from companies like Riverford and Abel & Cole which she says have enjoyed growth from loyal organic shoppers.

“These customers are sticking with organic and the box schemes are pulling in new customers across the UK,” she said.

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