Credit Crunch? Isn’t that a new breakfast cereal?

Chairing the recent (and excellent) National Health Store Conference gave me the opportunity to reflect on the likely impact of an economic downturn on the natural foods industry. Whatever the reality, the national mood does seem to have shifted in recent weeks and value for money is very much on the agenda. Traditionally our sector has done OK in difficult times. Making real cost-savings on food shopping is difficult, given that food spending accounts for only 9% of disposable income, dwarfed by mortgage payments and utility bills. Restaurants traditionally feel the pressure first, with a meal out bring replaced by something a little special cooked at home.

However this is no time to be complacent, not least because of how much more expensive food is getting. I cannot remember a time when two or three price rises a year were being proposed by suppliers.  Higher energy costs are playing a part here, as is good farming land switching from food production to bio fuel. The challenge now is to  ensure that consumers understand why it is worth paying that little bit extra for  an organic bar of chocolate, a Fairtrade jar of coffee or a free-from biscuit. So far all these markets currently appear to be still in growth, albeit at a lower rate than in previous years.

A back-to-basics approach could suit us very well. Cooking a delicious meal from organic ingredients makes more sense than buying an overpackaged, overpriced ready meal. If you are concerned about how much something costs it makes sense to ensure that as much as possible of the purchase price goes back to the producer (Fairtrade). And why risk your health for the sake of a few pence (Free From)?

For some time now Professor Tim Lang at City University has talked about the need to move way from value-based food and towards food with values. The natural foods industry has already made this switch, and the challenge now is to encourage consumers to make the same journey. Useful propaganda can be found in Felicity Lawrence’s new Penguin paperback “Eat Your Heart Out ” – everything that’s wrong with Big Food for only £8.99 and highly recommended.