Farms urged to go organic as sales grow

SCOTTISH farmers will be urged to go back to basics following the release this week of figures showing the first annual ­increase in UK organic food sales for five years.

Soil Association Scotland director Laura Stewart says there are great opportunities for farmers
Soil Association Scotland director Laura Stewart says there are great opportunities for farmers

Data from Nielsen to be ­released at the Soil Association’s annual trade briefing on Thursday in London will reveal year-on-year growth of 0.6 per cent. The increase ­follows four years in which total annual spending on ­organic food fell 22 per cent from its 2008 peak.

UK sales stand at £1.6 billion against the pre-­recession high of £1.84bn, making this the only European market where sales have slumped along with the economic downturn. Elsewhere, growth during the same period has been around 25 per cent.

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Soil Association Scotland director Laura Stewart wants to reverse the trend that has seen the area of registered organic land in Scotland fall by nearly half since 2004. “I would like to see organic sales growth continue, getting back to pre-recession levels, and I would like to see more farmers converting to organic because of the business opportunities,” she said. “There are going to be some great opportunities now that the market has returned to growth.”

Data released this month shows that Scottish consumers are returning to organics at a faster pace than their UK counterparts. During the 12 weeks to 9 June, Scottish spending on organic food was £13.4 million, a 6.1 per cent increase on the same period a year earlier. Corresponding figures for the UK revealed a 4.2 per cent increase to £187.4m.

Stewart said a recent ­fact-finding trip to Denmark revealed a raft of support measures for the sector in that country. Targets there are for 60 per cent of all food bought by hospitals, schools and the wider public sector to be organic, but in some individual schools the figure is as high as 75 per cent.

During the next 12 months, Soil Association Scotland hopes to adopt and adapt Danish examples to boost organic consumption by the public sector in this country. “That is looking at food service, but also we need to look at retailing,” Stewart said.

In 2004, the large supermarket chains accounted for 75 per cent of all organic food sales but by 2012 that figure had fallen to 70.7 per cent.