What came first? Organic chicken or egg?

Amy Leech - 20 March 2013

Shopping trolley full of vegetablesI live in the centre of Bristol - finding a shop isn’t a problem. But finding what I want to buy is.

I’m cooking spaghetti bolognaise for my friends tonight. I’ll be hard pushed to shop, cook and plate it up for 8pm. I’ll probably serve it late while they hide their hunger behind polite English smiles.

Rushing out the office, I’ll pop into a shop on the way home to get a few, essential, missing ingredients:

  • Organic mince
  • Organic bacon

I’m not asking for much. I’d like to choose organic meat - meat that has been reared outdoors, not been fed GM anything, grazed on grass that hasn’t been sprayed with toxic pesticides on a farm that supports up to 50% more biodiversity.

Years before horsemeat made a joke of our food system, I made a resolution to eat less but better quality meat - making it affordable to buy food I can trust.

But despite the string of supermarkets that I’ll pedal past, I’ll be hard pushed to find organic meat on the shelves. If I can’t choose it, I can’t buy it.

The fact that organic box scheme sales rose by 4.4% last year comes as no surprise to me, like many others I’m increasingly finding the organic choice and variety I want outside of supermarket aisles.

When we asked people last year if they’d buy more organic if more were available, 92% of people said they would.  With organic markets booming in Europe and beyond, it leaves me wondering – is the picture different in the UK because we don’t want to buy organic, or because we can’t?

Amy is Research Assistant at the Soil Association.

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Lee Holdstock (SA Trade Support)
27 March 2013 10:38

Considering the fact that we’ve been in an economic downturn since 2008, it’s fair to say that the organic market is by no means alone in facing tough times. The real surprise (and indeed a clue to the true strength of the organic proposition) is the growth being experienced by practically every other organic market in the world. Despite challenging economic conditions and a government that stands alone in the EU in terms of support for organic (see Soil Association’s Lazy Man of Europe report ) the decline is reducing year-on-year and that is good news. That retailers are waking up to the fact that they have been losing high spend customers by not offering organic (see increases for businesses who continue to over-trade in organic) and upping their offer slowly is also good news. Retailers are certainly not stupid, but as some have admitted to us, their pure size means that joined up thinking is not always happening and they do sometimes make mistakes. One strength the organic category has (unlike others e.g. free-from) is that there are bodies such as the Soil Association working hard to support it, despite the disinterest shown by our government. We create awareness platforms such as Organic September and engage with retailers. We help to create new routes to market through initiative such as the SA Catering Mark (100 million meal per year now under a scheme which requires organic ingredients) or our Export Support Program. We drive consumer support via campaigns such as ‘Keep Britain Buzzing’ which has recently attracted a staggering thousand new public supporters. Apprenticeship Schemes, Food Awards, Field Lab innovation projects, producer support, CAP reform lobbying, our contribution to eth £2M 'Naturally Different' marketing campaign. The list goes on. It’s always sad to from hear from organic farmers who want to move away from organic, but the agro-ecological proposition remains sound so be assured that by working together, the tide will come back in on organic, as it has done before.

Tim Odelle
26 March 2013 10:24

Delightful spin on what is ultimately another report highlighting the decline of organic food sales in the UK. Highlighted in the recent Organic Market Report, (Soil Association) sales of organic produce are down (again) by 1.5%. Still on a steady decline sine the peak of the organic frenzy in the last decade, at least is wasn’t as bad as last years decline of 3.7% (reported 2012) or the tragic 12.9% (reported 2011) sales decline in 2010 (all soil association market reports). I think from figures like those mentioned above, any business would have to reconsider trying to sell something whose sales are falling year on year. Are the supermarkets mean? Yes, but they are not stupid, they are very quick to react to markets demands and trends. As an organic grower I find myself asking the question, is it viable to continue operating in a declining market? Unfortunately I am increasingly aware that my produce is becoming harder and harder to shift and I am answering that question with a big fat NO. I would hate to see the years of hard work converting my steading from conventional to organic, and years of lower yields and production to be thrown away. I am no fan of supermarkets but I don’t think it is their fault domestic organic markets are waning, we need more marketing from the SA to boost our sales!

20 March 2013 18:27

I believe the 'multiples' call it 'choice editing' but they will only do what consumers want you know. P.S next time dinner is late I'm not going to be polite.

Kathie Auton
20 March 2013 11:05

Excellent post. The eternal question of supply and demand!

Anna Louise Batchelor
20 March 2013 08:33

This is a good post Amy and it again raises the issue of the relationship between organic producers, organic food, organic consumers and the supermarket. It's time for us to support alternatives to the 'big four' and in Bristol you have plenty to choose from - The Better Food Company is just one good example. It's also time for the Soil Association to step outside of it's cosy relationship with the supermarkets and the big organic brands and look to what people actually need; wholesome affordable food and what they actually want; your weekly organic shop.

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