UK organic market hits highest growth level in 15 years

Released today (10 February), Soil Association Certification’s Organic Market Report 2021 reveals the UK’s organic market is now worth £2.79 billion, after a 12.6% growth in sales in 2020. The market has now reached its highest growth rate in 15 years, outperforming growth in the non-organic sector. During 2020 more than £50 million per week was spent on organic food and drink.

Soil Association Certification’s annual UK Organic Market Report 2021 reveals:

  • Organic market year on year sales growth has reached 12.6% in 2020, outperforming growth in the non-organic sector
  • This is the highest year on year growth rate in the organic market since 2005, with a 10th consecutive year of growth. The market is on target to reach £2.9B by end of 2021.
  • Total sales of organic hit £2.79 billion, meaning more than £50m per week was spent on organic in 2020, as shopping needs and habits changed dramatically due to the pandemic.
  • Online and home delivery sales fuelled much of the growth in the organic market in 2020, with sales increasing by 36.2%, meaning this channel to market accounts for almost 25% of the total sales (supermarket online sales are included)
  • Sales of organic items in supermarkets increased by 12.5%* with many categories showing growth over 20%

Sophie Kirk, senior business development manager, Soil Association Certification, said: “The unprecedented crisis of 2020 has brought immense challenges for organic farmers and the entire food supply chain. So it’s heartening that in times of crisis, more people are supporting home – grown organic produce, with many British organic products such as eggs, cheese, carrots, beef and lamb benefitting from strong sales growth through supermarkets this year. Online organic sales through box schemes and home delivery services have seen stand out growth of 36.2%, with many organic businesses expanding their online and direct to consumer sales.

“Alongside this many organic producers are selling direct to the public, playing to their key strengths of promoting British sourcing and sustainability. With the organic market growing faster than ever and expected to reach £2.9 billion by the end of 2021, there are opportunities for UK organic farmers looking to meet growing consumer demand for sustainable, British food and drink and Government support is available for organic farming through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. The Government must continue to invest in farming systems that deliver for climate, nature and health in the transition to ELMs.”

The report shows strong growth in organic supermarket sales at +12.5%*. Organic supermarket categories which experienced increased growth in sales include: produce, which have grown by 15.5%*; meat, fish and poultry, which have grown by 16.8%* and dairy which have grown by 7.7%*. Key organic products that have seen positive sales growth include eggs +17.2%*, beef +30.9%* and carrots +17.2%*.

The report also reveals stand-out growth in organic via online and home delivery at +36.2%. With an estimated 1 in 4 organic products purchased online in 2020, the organic online and home delivery channel reached close to £500M, surpassing independent retailer sales.

Increased interest in online shopping and box schemes for ease, choice and most importantly knowing where your food has come from during the pandemic has driven up customer numbers, orders and sales for many operators, with local and sustainable supply chains performing well, substantially strengthening the success of this longstanding organic channel.

Wilma Finlay is managing director at the Ethical Dairy in Castle Douglas, Scotland, the first commercial dairy in the UK to be following the cow with calf method. She said: “We converted our 350ha dairy farm to organic 20 years ago as part of a long-term project to make our farm more resilient whilst treating land, animals and people with respect. We’ve cut out fertilizers, vaccines and antibiotics, and moved to a 100% pasture based, cow with calf dairy system and have seen huge benefits for animal welfare, soil health and biodiversity.

“Four years ago we started processing and selling our own cheese and in 2020 we saw a strong surge in demand for our products, significantly increasing the amount of product sold directly to customers with home delivery accounting for 80% of our business sales. The majority of our market are based in London and we use social media to connect directly with our customers and engage them with our farm story. We are positive about 2021 and will focus on online sales alongside retail.”

Increased interest in good quality and locally produced food helped to drive sales of organic in 2021. Soil Association Certification research (July 2020) found that people most associate ‘organic’ with safe and fully traceable food with less pesticides, and no genetically modified organisms.

The organic market is now on track to reach £2.9 billion by the end of 2021, with many new organic shoppers expected to remain loyal to the sector as they look to back a food and farming system that delivers for climate, nature and health.

Soil Association Certification’s Organic Market Report 2021 is sponsored by Triodos, one of the world’s leading sustainable banks.

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