A recent market survey from Green Marketing estimates that in the Czech Republic one fifth of the population now regularly consumes organic foods. Undoubtedly as one of the richer countries in the Central and Eastern European country the Czech Republic is setting a precedent, but right the way across the region there is evidence to prove that the industry is starting to take off.
In Russia, for example, the growing sophistication in major urban areas is leading to a burgeoning market for the import of organic food products from western Europe. This has happened because organic food production is still virtually non-existent there. But this trend seems to be the exception in the region, because for the most part the evidence is strong that Central and Eastern European organic food producers are now starting to cater for the increasing demands for organic foods in western Europe as well as their own domestic markets.
"EU accession is having a large impact on the organic food industry in Central and Eastern European countries," said Amarjit Sahota, director of Organic Monitor, a provider of business information for the organic food industry. "Countries like Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have seen a large rise in organic farmland in recent years because many farmers have already recognised the potential of the Western European market. We have seen many farmers convert to organic agriculture in recent years and they are supplying organic cereals, grains, herbs, spices and vegetables to Western European countries"
Sahota went on to predict that after the enlargement of Europe there will in turn be a large rise in exports of organic products from Central and Eastern Europe once they become apart of the EU.
Although there is clear evidence from the supermarket shelves in leading urban areas that organic food products are starting to take off in Eastern Europe, development, says Sahota, is still at the early stages.
"In terms of market growth in these countries, there is expected to be significant development in the coming years. There is currently a lack of organic products in these country markets, mainly because most of the production is for primary products. Enlargement will also lead to many organic processed foods from western Europe entering the Eastern European markets. Already we are seeing German organic finished products entering the Czech and Hungarian markets. The trend will continue to give consumers a greater choice of organic products."
Currently there are around 513,000 hectares of arable land devoted to the farming of organic crops in the Central and Eastern European region (excluding Russia). Of this the Czech Republic accounts for around 210,000 hectares, Hungary 105,000 hectares and Poland 44,000 hectares - making these three countries the clear market leaders. But, as Sahota points out, this trend is expected to change as the domestic markets evolve.
"The amount for organic farmland has been increasing at a rapid rate. Much of the growth until now has been export-led. An example of this is Polish organic vegetable growers and Romanian organic cereal growers who have converted to organic agriculture because they want to sell to Western Europe and earn Euros. However, the trend is expected to change with a growing number of farmers converting to cater to their home markets. We are already seeing this in Hungary and the Czech markets where there has been significant developments in the organic meat & dairy sectors in the last year."
Currently the market for organic foods in Central and Eastern Europe is valued at €80 million, but with future growth remaining a two-pronged equation, taking into account the growth of the domestic markets and further development western Europe, significant future growth seems an inevitability.