Last year discount supermarket Aldi launched a range of organic products in the UK. Starting with fruit and vegetables, it said it intended to extend the line to include ready meals, baby food, beers and wines.
While media coverage of Aldi’s new organic range suggested that the budget retailer was attempting to covet the middle classes, Aldi said that the decision came in response to increasing requests for organic in consumer feedback forms.
Aldi corporate buyer Tony Baines said: “We know our shoppers want to buy more organic products, but price is often the reason why it’s not a regular purchase. This is why we’ve launched a 100% British organic range at an affordable everyday low price.”
For Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, deeming the organic movement a middle class fad was not just incorrect but patronising: “Ethical shoppers are not just middle-class faddists. The assumptions that those on lower incomes just don't care about better food anymore, or the health of farm animals, or our environment, are hideously patronising.”
Working class foodies
It is a view that the organic industry has attempted to dispel.
In 2011 the UK’s Organic Trade Board launched its £2m (€2.79m) ‘Why I love Organic’ campaign with the help of EU funding. The campaign included a poster depicting a manual labourer with the caption: "Me and the missus buy organic because we want the kids eating food that's more natural and tastes great, free from all that GM nonsense."
Meanwhile, some food manufacturers took a hands-on approach to fostering a foodie's love for sustainable produce and the farming methods used. UK producer of organic meat, The Black Farmer set up a rural scholarship scheme called Young City Farmers, which offered young people from disadvantaged areas the opportunity to spend a week working on a farm.
Founder and CEO, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, said: “My own personal experience has taught me that by exposing ‘hardcore urbanites’ to the rural environment, it can trigger a deep seated affinity with the land. When this happens it opens up a huge amount of options to someone who may have thought they were headed for life’s dustbin heap.”
A food renaissance
For food writer Tim Hayward this disconnection between urban populations and farming culture is older and more deeply entrenched in the UK than almost anywhere else in the world, and the reasons for this are rooted in history.
"Ours is a small nation and was the first to experience the industrial revolution. From late in the 19th century, more than half of our population lived in urban centres and needed their food delivered by what we'd now call a complex 'supply chain'."
Hayward argued that the past ten years had seen a food renaissance in Britain, epitomised by a renewed interest in organic food, celebrity chefs and farmers' markets.
For Bob Astley co-author of Food and Cultural Studies, farmers’ markets - which began to take off in the late nineties rising to around 300 in the UK by 2002 - are predominantly middle-class spaces.
But Soil Association press officer Hayley Coristine told FoodNavigator that it was also working to change this: "Our School Farmers’ Markets lets kids take the reins and learn more about where their food is from. More than just a market – these are social events for the whole community held for a few hours after school, which give the opportunity for both parents and children alike to meet the producers, experience, explore and learn about food."