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UK organic food boom driven by health, says report

By Anthony Fletcher , 03-Nov-2006

The UK organic food market is continuing to escalate as consumers embrace what they consider to be healthier eating habits, according to a new report.

The UK market for organic food was valued at £1.6bn in 2005, up from £0.8bn in 2000, and this buoyant growth is expected to continue over the next five years."Environmental and ethical concerns obviously influence consumers, but buying organic is not typically an altruistic act," said Daniel Bone, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor and report author.

"Indeed, more and more consumers are rejecting processed foods. Concerns over food safety, health and perceived superior taste are the core motivations for buying organics."

This confirms the findings of a number of other recent studies, which are pretty much unanimous in marking out organics as a key growth sector within the European food industry.

Organic food sales soared by 30 per cent in Britain last year, according to figures from the pro-organic Soil Association, while AC Nielsen data shows sales for supermarket Sainsburys' organic range up 18.4 per cent year on year.

Indeed, supermarkets across the board have been quick to adopt organic food in order to tap into concerns about the consumption of possibly dangerous chemicals and the environmental impact of artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

"With three out of four UK consumers doing more to eat healthily over the past year, consumers increasingly switch to healthy alternatives," said Bone. "Organics are emerging as a credible healthy eating alternative, irrespective of the credence surrounding that perception."

This is very much the crux of the report, Capitalising on Natural & Fresh Food & Drink Trends. Datamonitor contends that the health trend - which, together with taste, really drives organics - is becoming an important part of the emerging 'fresh' trend.

Datamonitor found that consumers across Europe are increasingly concerned about the specifics of foods that they digest. One in four Brits felt that reducing consumption of processed food and drink was 'very important' in maintaining a healthy diet and nearly two-thirds considered this to be important overall.

Related to this finding - and one which carries significant importance for the food and drinks industry overall - was that eating fresh food was what consumers' considered to be the most important route to healthy eating for consumers in Europe and the US.

"Freshness is not just associated with healthy eating but also with enhanced sensory quality and therefore superior enjoyment," said Bone. "This is a refreshing change in today's environment where marketing of low fat, low salt, low sugar, zero calories options has perpetuated a slightly negative message about eating and drinking."

By focusing on freshness, Datamonitor believes food producers can engage shoppers and bring back some positivity about eating more generally.

"Marketers can focus on the emotionally appealing sensory properties of fresh products rather than all the bad content that's been removed. Fresh, unprocessed or minimally-processed foods have strong potential to be the next major growth area." Datamonitor predicts that the UK market will reach £2.7bn by 2010 - more than 4 times the market value in 2000.

Datamonitor's survey also found that German consumers (66 per cent) are most likely to buy into the notion that eating organic food and drinks is important in maintaining a healthy diet. It is therefore no co-incidence that the German market - valued at £3.5bn in 2005 - is also the most developed in Europe.

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