The latest figures published today reveal that organic foods are no longer considered the "preserve of the affluent foody," and are currently consumed by two thirds of British adults.
The market is expected to reach almost £1.2 billion in 2005, an increase of 94 per cent since 2000 at current prices. Growth is driven by strong performances from organic fruit and vegetables, as well as organic dairy and meat products.
Although organic products currently account for only 1 per cent of the nation's total food and drink sales, the market researcher said these products have "joined the mainstream." Increased consumer interest in healthy eating, locally sourced produce, concern for the environment and food safety have all contributed to the surge in sales.
Organic fruit and vegetables remain the largest sector of the market, with sales valued at £442 million this year, and over half of consumers opting for these products.
Organic meat is the next most popular product, consumed by around one in four adults over the past year, with the meat and poultry sector growing by almost 150 per cent in the past five years.
"At the start of the millennium, British shoppers were purchasing organic meat because it was a premium option. But more recently, growth has come primarily from consumers interested in the other qualities they believe organic meat has to offer, such as greater confidence in its food safety and a growing awareness of animal welfare issues," comments Mintel's Julie Sloan.
Dairy products have also enjoyed good growth, headed by strong demand for organic milk and the "successful positioning" of yoghurts to compete against conventional premium lines on a healthy eating platform.
Indeed, local supplies are often insufficient to keep up with the increasing demand for some organic goods, resulting on a growing dependence on imported goods, said Mintel. For example, organic milk is currently imported from Austria, Denmark and France, while demand for organic pork and beef is straining capacity levels among UK farmers.
Trade associations, such as the nation's organic body Soil Association continue to encourage more farms to convert to organic, while Mintel suggests that "focus needsto be placed on making consumers more aware of seasonal produce in theUK."
Indeed, according to Sloan, consumers are "more educated and aware than ever before. But they are constantly being bombarded by a host of different messages, all claiming health benefits or contributing to a healthy lifestyle, for example, low fat, carb, GI or free from, functional, fortified or natural. A clear and consistent message is needed in order to survive any diet fads or trends and is paramount to long term growth, but marketers will need to re-assess whether 'natural' isn't a more attractive positioning than 'organic'."
Over the next five years, Mintel forecasts that the UK's organic food and drinks market will increase by 72 per cent to reach a value of £2 billion.
However, according to the Soil Association, this figure "underestimates the growth" of the organics market.
"This is because, in our perception, there is tremendous, underlying interest in sustainable production and locally-sourced food, which are rightly seen as offering potential solutions to current debates about protecting the environment, food security, animal welfare and other issues. Organic food gives millions of consumers the chance to exercise their independent buying power and make a real difference," said director Patrick Holden.
"The organic and local food market is a big idea whose time has come," he added.