Organic Articles: The Case For Organics

The Organic Consultancy

The Case For Organics

Simon Wright, The Organic Consultancy

UK sales of organic food and drink grew by 55% last year. Although only accounting for 2-3% of total food sales in the UK great things are forecast for organics, which is on track to be a 1bn sector by 2002. Consumer research suggests that one of the main driving forces behind organic sales in the UK to date has been fear of non-organic food. The seemingly unending stream of problems experienced by conventional UK food producers has driven at least some consumers to look for what they perceive as a safer, healthier alternative.

I have worked with organic foods for 15 years, I may even have been one of the first Food Technologists to work with processed organic foods. For the last five years I have run The Organic Consultancy (www.organic-consultancy.com), working with a variety of companies to develop their ranges of organic food and drink. I also serve on various official committees, organise organic trade shows and write for both organic consumer and trade magazines. I believe in the benefits of organic agriculture, so the commercial success of organics over the last few years has been personally very rewarding.

However there are clouds on the horizon. This rapid growth in organics has resulted in great strain on the supply chain leading to a cycle of oversupply and shortage. This in turn has encouraged one or two dishonest traders to attempt to substitute non-organic products for organics (at least one trader is in prison now as a result). Equally worrying are consumer perceptions about organics. Research shows that UK consumers think that organic food is better for them, tastes better and is completely free from both GM material and pesticide residues. The first two statements are currently unproven, although plenty of research is underway. Organic legislation all over the world clearly bans GM and artificial pesticides from organic production, but we live in an imperfect world and ensuring that organic foods are 100.00% free from such material is proving increasingly challenging. Finally there is a media backlash underway, with opening shots from The Money Programme and The Times in recent weeks and more to come.

Despite all this I remain convinced that organics is here to stay and will represent an increasingly significant sector of the food and drink industry both in the UK and elsewhere. Organic agriculture enhances biodiversity, creates rural jobs and rewards farmers for theis stewardship on the countryside. Processed organic foods meet consumer expectation of more natural, less processed products with clear traceability from fork to plate. Enhanced animal welfare standards, higher prices for farmers, reduced food miles, support of local food production… the list of positive attributes associated with organics is endless. The challenge now is to develop a more efficient distribution chain that delivers delicious affordable organic food to as many people as possible. Watch this space !

Simon Wright
(simon@organic-consultancy.com)