Can you choose organic where you shop?

Our latest market report shows that organic shoppers are looking beyond their supermarket shelves to find the organic choice and variety they want. As supermarkets have cut organic shelf space and ranges over the last few years, customers are turning to box schemes and online shopping (where there are more extensive ranges) to buy organic.

These results are backed up by our recent survey* of the availability of organic which found that many are struggling to find enough organic range. Availability of organic varies a lot, depending on where you shop, and which product you are looking for - whether it’s meat, cheese or milk.

A staggering 92% of people said they'd buy more organic if more were available.

It's likely that declining organic supermarket sales are partly due to this lack of availability. Sales are restricted if range is restricted. As one person said:

"Compared with five years ago when 90% of my purchases were organic, I would estimate that only about 80% is now organic due to certain items not being available."

Organic supermarket sweep

Organic availability varies depending on where you shop. At the moment Sainsbury's and Waitrose are the best performing supermarkets, but there are really inadequate organic ranges available in Asda, Aldi and notably Co-op which had the lowest availability of all retailers surveyed.

  Organic is available x% of the time
Waitrose 93%
Sainsbury's 92%
Tesco 84%
Independents 82%
Morrisons 76%
Asda 68%
Aldi 38%
Co-op 37%
"I like the Co-op, and if only they would sell organic produce I would use them almost exclusively."
"Generally I find Sainsbury's fairly well stocked with organic products, but would welcome more."
"I shop at Waitrose because I find it has the best and most consistent range or organic foods."

Organic product availability

Availability of organic varies hugely depending on what you are looking for. If it's milk, you're in luck – it's available 96% of the time.

It's bacon, beef and bread that are the hardest to find. Organic bacon was least available - it was only available 61% of the time and as little as 12% of the time in Co-op and 41% of the time in Asda.

  Product is available x% of the time
Organic bacon 61%
Organic minced beef 66%
Organic bread 76%
Organic apples 80%
Organic cheese 82%
Organic pasta 82%
Organic tomatoes 84%
Organic carrots 85%
Organic eggs 90%
Organic milk 96%

What’s the impact?

Organic is sometimes hard to find

Experience of organic availability differs depending on where you shop and what you are looking for, but with a big majority of survey responders saying they’d buy more if they could, it's clear that the range and variety of organic on offer is not good enough for most people.

"I have to shop in three stores to buy organic food I want!"
"I would always like to buy organic, but it is becoming increasingly difficult."
"Organic ranges in supermarkets are not always easy to find - you really have to look for them."

People want more variety

When asked if there were any products not available that they'd like to buy, the responses were unanimous. People want to see more variety available on basic items: vegetables and salad came out top, followed by meat, fruit, bread, and cheese.

People are swapping to online and box scheme buying

Organic box scheme sales grew by 4.4% last year, while supermarket own-label sales dropped by 11.2%. It's clear that in the face of reduced organic availability and choice, organic shoppers are increasingly finding what they want outside of the supermarket aisles.

"We now buy an organic vegetable box each week, which is delivered to our home. Along with this we often buy meat and locally caught fish from the same supplier; this all a loss to the big supermarkets who we normally shop with for our family food."
"I find Sainsbury's the 'best' but really that is just the best out of a bad bunch. They end up losing our custom now as Riverford deliver to me weekly all my meat, veg and fruit needs and the produce is fantastic! (cheaper and WAY less packaging!)"

What we are doing with the results

The outcomes of the survey have been communicated to senior contacts at Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda and Co-op and they have been asked to review and improve their availability of organic products on shelf. Over time, we will continue to survey their ranges and continue our dialogue should the situation not improve.

* The survey was conducted in September and October 2012, via Survey Monkey on the Soil Association website. Responses were self-selected and should therefore not be considered representative of the general population, they are likely to represent the views of organic supporters and shoppers.

Carrots and tomatoes in a shopping trolley

Our shopping list

Our supporters looked for the following items during their weekly shop:

  • Organic apples
  • Organic carrots
  • Organic tomatoes
  • Organic milk
  • Organic cheese
  • Organic eggs
  • Organic bacon
  • Organic minced beef
  • Organic bread
  • Organic pasta

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