The Irish organic food market has returned to retail value growth for the first time since 2010, but consumers may be driven more by negative perceptions of non-organic than positive of organic, according a report from the Irish food board Bord Bia.
The report found that annual retail sales of organic food came in at €99.1m this year, up from €97m in 2013 but still below the record high of €106m in 2010.
Over a quarter of the 700 shoppers aged 18 or over said the amount of organic food they had purchased in the last year has increased, yet two thirds reported no change.
Eileen Bentley, Bord Bia’s entrepreneurship and small business manager and commissioner of the research, told FoodNavigator these figures had been driven by volumes.
However, despite organic “bucking the recessionary trend” the report said: “There is a sense that a proportion of organic purchasing is being driven by negative perceptions associated with non-organic rather than an inherent desire to buy in to the organic lifestyle and principles. It will be important for organic producers to emphasise the positive reasons for buying organic, particularly among those who are more occasional buyers.”
Who and why?
Within this Bentley said it was possible that organic was riding off the back of events like the horse meat scandal, offering an option consumers may perceive to be better in terms of traceability.
"Consumers put a lot of trust in the word organic on pack. That's enough for them to demonstrate credentials."
The report said organic purchasing had remained stable amongst core shoppers over the past six years, with the main organic consumer being female, ‘urban-living’ and ABC social demographics (upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class, skilled working class).
What are the top perceived benefits of buying organic food?
- Free from chemicals and pesticides and therefore healthier
- Healthier for my body
- Free from antibiotics and therefore healthier
- Is good for nature and the environment
- Is more natural
- Tastes better
What is the consumer attitude towards organic?
- Passionate 24%
- Engaged 13%
- Casual 20%
- Accidental 23%
- Rejectors 20%
Bord Bia said interest in organic products for ‘special occasions’ was growing, with 66% of consumers saying they purchased organic for a romantic meal at home, the same amount for food as a gift and over 50% for dieting and detoxing.
Challenging retail landscape
However, Bentley added that a changing retail landscape targeting consumers’ recession money worries was a key challenge for the organic sector. She said there had been an increasing trend towards in-store promotions which had “encouraged” even steadfast organic shoppers to deviate and prioritise price.
“At some points, even committed organic purchasers have to make a choice,” she said.
Two thirds of all organic shoppers would like to see an organic range located in one place in stores, the report found. As a result, the Bord Bia was upping efforts with suppliers and retailers to increase in-store exposure.
She added that although consumer spending confidence was returning to form after the sector’s record high in 2010 and its subsequent slump, there was usually a six-month lag before this change was felt in figures.
“In that period , organic was really riding high. It was coming from a strong base. It will be a while before we see that again.”
Location, location, location
Around 73% of Irish organic consumers said that they would be further interested in buying organic produce if it was local, while 50% of organic shoppers agreed buying Irish organic food was very important to them.
“Buying Irish is an important consideration for Irish shoppers, as is buying local, to a lesser extent. However, buyers of organic food and drink recognise that it is not always possible to buy Irish organic. While the positioning of ‘local organic’ is appealing to current buyers, imported organic products are not a deterrent to purchase,” the report said.
Bentley said that in recent years the Irish organic message had been “pushed aside” and “swallowed” by that of local, meaning it was important to re-address this focus.
Other factors that could encourage Irish consumer to buy more organic produce were a price decrease and an increased range, the report said.