Consumer interest for seasonal, local and organic produce shown to be holding up

Consumer interest in seasonal, local and organic produce remains undiminished despite the tough economic conditions, according to the findings of two new research reports.

The Soil Association's Organic Market Report revealed that organic box sales grew by one per cent last year from a value of £154.2m in 2009 to £155.8m 2010. It also pointed to a recovery in the organic sector, which was badly hit by the recession.

Meanwhile, research by Defra has showed that more than two-thirds of people consider buying British produce as important and almost three-quarters look to buy British fruit and vegetables.

The Defra figures also showed that of those people who look to buy seasonal fruit and vegetables, almost half of them think that seasonal food tastes better and two-thirds prefer to buy according to the season, with 30 per cent saying they want to support British farmers.

Food minister Jim Paice said: "One of Defra's core aims is to support British farmers so they can continue to deliver the best produce sustainably. It's clear that this is what consumers want too."

Soil Association deputy director Roger Mortlock added: "There is powerful evidence that consumers who care about the diverse benefits of organic will stay loyal, even during these tough economic times."

The Soil Association report called the outlook for 2011 "cautiously optimistic". It said: "Horticulture has seen some confidence returning - the market for smaller growers recovering best in the south.

"Among ten of the biggest organic suppliers/packers, sales were up for one and down for five. A good year for fruit crops saw strong local markets for juice and cider."

However, both reports revealed that price remains a major factor for consumers. Defra's research revealed that a third of people reject seasonal produce as too expensive. The Soil Association found that, overall, sales of organic products fell by 5.9 per cent to £1.73bn in 2010.

But this was significantly less than the bashing the organic sector took the year before (2009), when sales slumped by 12.9 per cent.

Meanwhile, the fresh produce product share of the market in 2010 decreased to £402m. The report added that dairy products and fresh fruit and vegetables were the most popular categories last year, with 30.5 and 23.2 per cent of sales respectively.

MARKET CONDITIONS

- Box schemes with a turnover above £2m saw combined sales grow by nine per cent.

- Abel & Cole increased its turnover by 13 per cent.

- Riverford Organic Vegetables increased its sales by 1.5 per cent.

- In July 2010, the UK's organic land area was reported to be 738,709ha, based on data to the end of 2009 - a 0.6 per cent decrease on the previous year.

- Sales to the multiples fell by 7.75 per cent last year to £1.25bn.

- The number of UK organic producers fell by 4.2 per cent to 7,567 in 2010, from a record high of 7,896 the previous year.


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