UK organic industry losing out to other ethical issues, says IGD

Caroline Scott-Thomas, FoodNavigator.com, 21 August 2009


“Market research organization IGD has concluded that the organic food sector needs to do more to build consumer awareness of organics’ wider benefits to avoid losing customers to other ethical issues.

Its new research shows that ten per cent of UK shoppers say they have found other products that are cheaper than organic foods, which they perceive to have the same benefits. Eight per cent said that they are no longer sure of what organic stands for, and a further eight per cent said they were buying fewer organic products, focusing on those “where they think it really makes a difference.”

However, there was good news for the organic sector in the research: Nineteen per cent of UK shoppers said they were maintaining the same level of spending on organic food – down from 24 per cent during 2008 – while nine per cent said they intended to spend more on organic food when they have more money to do so.

Chief executive of IGD Joanne Denney-Finch said: “There are still challenges, however. Those that have drifted away have not performed a U-turn on ethics – they are finding value for their values in, for example, products that meet high animal welfare standards, local foods and fair trade.

“The organic movement has the opportunity to win back at least some of these shoppers and to increase sales among their existing customers. By communicating the full range of benefits in a clear and compelling manner, they will enable shoppers to weigh up the value for themselves.”

Strong core remains

She added that there are points about which the research is encouraging for the organic sector, particularly that the recession has not affected the choice to buy organic foods for nearly one in five UK shoppers, and that “supporters tend to be younger and more affluent – supporting our view that the organic market is experiencing a dip rather than a collapse.”

IGD’s conclusions are largely in line with those outlined in a Soil Association report released earlier this year.

In that report on the state of the market, policy director Peter Melchett drew attention to the bewildering range of ethical claims, such as fair trade, locally sourced, free range, natural and pesticide-free.

“To cut through the confusion the organic movement needs to demonstrate more forcefully than ever that organic principles encompass all these single issues and deliver a set of interlocking benefits that can and will still motivate consumers,”he said.

Forty-one per cent of those surveyed by IGD said they have never been interested in organic foods.”