Under its programme for internal market promotions, the European Union offers a matching fund for member states to promote organic food to consumers. Although other member states have benefited, the UK has not yet made a successful bid.
In September 2008 Sustain, the campaign for better food and farming, was charged with coordinating a UK application for funds. Its goal is to reach ₤500,000 by October, which would total budget of ₤1m, including the matching funds from the EU.
The goal is to bring about a 15 per cent increase in the volume of organic sales each year. The UK organic sector was valued at £2.1bn in 2008 by the Soil Association.
Contributors so far include Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), Alara Whole Foods and The Organic Milk Cooperative (OMSCo); other organisations, including the Soil Association, are supporting the sector-wide initiative.
A meeting is planned at the Food and Drink Federation's Organics Group on 3 July, where Sustain will make its first presentation to up to 50 food companies of the campaign strategy, which has been drawn up by PR firm Bray Leino. The bid for the EU funding will be submitted by Defra in October.
Richard Jacobs of OF&G, the certifier that recently contributed to the fund, said:
“I think people have come to realise increasingly clearly in recent months that UK organics has not done the best job of marketing itself. Organics represents a whole range of positives, from animal welfare to environmental improvement and the avoidance of routine chemical use, but when you ask someone why they do or do not buy organic food, they often struggle to explain it clearly.
"For instance, people love the idea of free-range eggs, which have been well marketed. Many don't realise that free-ranging is at the heart of the organic standards, with all the other benefits on top. It's that kind of message we must get across, not individually, but as a sector.”
Catherine Fookes, who is coordinating the campaign for Sustain, told FoodNavigator.com that other European countries have succeeded in tapping the EU fund – for example, Italy has had 13 successful bids, France 8 and Denmark 7.
However these countries have received match funding from their governments, whereas in the UK this is must be sought from industry.
An earlier bid for funds was made by OMSCo in November 2007 but this failed. The reason for this is though to be that it was not a sector-wide initiative.
Any company or producer wishing to support the campaign or pledge money to should contact Catherine Fookes of Sustain by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.