Organic food was once seen as a niche market but now major multinationals are offering organic products. In fact it has been one of the biggest trends in the food sector in recent years but do organics have staying power, or will consumers lose interest over time?
FoodNavigator has been asking industry and readers for their views. Below is a selection of attributable responses, representing both sides of the argument.
I believe that the drivers that are behind the growth in organics (food safety, return to naturalness and taste) are deeply ingrained within the consumers who are already converted and loyal to organic. They will remain committed to the organic concept, particularly in the core categories of fruit and veg, dairy and meat. However, I think organics in peripheral categories may suffer some decline, since the link between desire and delivery isn’t so strong. I believe the economic downturn may slow the growth of organics, but it won’t send it in to decline.
Jo Pabari, GoodStuff Consulting, UK.
The scientific evidence linking organic production methods to enhanced nutrient density and lower food safety risks is growing more compelling. Two factors will define the future trajectory for organic food sales. First, whether and to what extent organic farmers and food companies focus on sustaining and expanding the inherent benefits in organic systems, eg by foregoing the temptation to push organic crop yields and animals beyond physiological limits where health is sacrificed to production. Second, whether and to what extent the rest of the food industry moves toward production systems and technologies that produce safer and higher quality foods.
Dr Charles Benbrook, chief scientist, The Organic Center, Oregon.
There seems little to convince me that organic food is anything other than a fad of the wealthy who have plenty to spend their money on. Anyway what precisely do we mean by 'organic'? If we mean not keeping chickens in tiny cages where they can hardly move, then I am in favor of doing something to improve their lives and buy 'free range' eggs whenever I can but this is NOT organic although it is frequently misunderstood as being so. If by organic we mean using Copper as a fungicide and refusing to consider GM crops, synthetic fungicides and glyphosate then I am anti organic and avoid buying anything described as such.
The organic movement is driven by an almost religious set of beliefs with no real understanding of proper science that does itself no good with those of us who have an understanding of agricultural science.
J.A. Harrington, Optima Excel Ltd (Agricultural Consultants), Wales.
I am a strong advocate of organic food and believe that it has superior taste and nutritional value, however this may be negated when organic food is transported long distances or stored for long periods. Organic food and farming will not become the norm, as it is just not cost effective to feed the billions on this earth in this manner. However, I do believe that it should be adopted wherever possible, as part of a sustainable future. Food prices are increasing due to droughts, floods and soaring fuel prices, so taking some responsibility is important – grow your own!
Sara Hopkins BHSc. research and development officer, Health World Limited, Australia.
The organic trend is about more than just taste. It is a lifestyle choice and taps into a more environmentally-conscious philosophy that has captured many consumers. Free range eggs are just one example of a product which has moved from niche to mainstream, despite the higher cost. In light of the credit crunch, many consumers are making savings by eating out less. This shifts the NPD focus for manufacturers to expanding their offerings to include easy-to-prepare, restaurant-style, eat-at-home products that meet consumers’ environmental and ethical considerations. Organic certainly plays a part in this expansion and looks set to stay."
Laura Goodbrand, marketing manager, Wholesome Ingredients Europe, National Starch Food Innovation, Hamburg.
Organic prices tend to be more expensive than conventional agriculture because of higher labor input in organic agriculture, cheap fuel and subsidies conventional agriculture often receives, which deters consumers from being devoted to the purchase of organic foods. Yet, as food safety, general health, global commodity prices and biofuel issues continue to grow in influence, locally produced organic foods may just feed the masses by way of a default.
In fact, I imagine we’ll continue to see an increase in organic back yard gardens.... Just like our grandparents had. Organic food was the norm “back in the day”. It wasn’t broke. It didn’t have to be fixed. I think we’re all starting to realize this and as the food road continues to be bumpy, comfort in organic food will prevail.
Frederick Schilling, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, founder, Gula Merah Fund, managing director and eco-entrepreneur.