Sales of organic produce fall 15% in 2009 but experts predict upturn for 2010

Sales of organically-grown fruit and vegetables fell almost 15 per cent in the last year as shoppers spent less on organic food during the recession.

Figures released this week from the Soil Association's annual benchmarking report showed sales of organic food, drink and other products slumped by 12.9 per cent in the UK last year.

But the association predicts a market expansion of between two and five per cent in 2010.

Home delivery of organic vegetable and fruit boxes fell 9.8 per cent, sales of organic goods in supermarkets fell by 12.2 per cent, with farm shops and health food outlets' sales dipping 17.7 per cent.

Overall, organic sales fell last year from a record high of £2.1bn in 2008 to £1.84bn, according to the Organic Market Report 2010 released at the Natural and Organic Products Europe show in London. The report examines organic sectors and polls consumers.

Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said: "It has been a tough year for the organic market, but we have seen the businesses that are most committed to communicating its benefits perform best. Confidence is now returning, and with the growing recognition of the need for environmentally sustainable production systems, we are confident that the organic market, having weathered the recession, will return to growth."

Supermarkets account for 73.7 per cent of the organic market. Waitrose organic sales dipped by only 3.5 per cent and it is now predicting growth of 3-5 per cent this year. Tesco said its sales of organic vegetables were increasing after more than a year of decline.

Melchett added: "The question we should really be asking is not can we afford organic food but can policy-makers afford to carry on playing down the potential of organic farming's contribution to food security and tackling climate change? We need to rekindle the kind of consumer demand that will ultimately be impossible for policy-makers and retailers to ignore."

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