Is the British organic movement losing the plot?

I thought about entitling this post “A wilful refusal to respect the consumer”, since that is what appears to lie at the heart of the organic industry’s problems.  The UK organic market has shrunk by 20% over the last four recorded years, whilst most international markets have been experiencing growth, despite the economic downturn affecting European and North American markets, as here.  The disparity with other markets is put down to factors such as a lack of government and retailer support in the UK.

The arguments given for the UK’s poor organic market performance are, in all honesty, rather lame.  For instance, retailers will readily respond to increased consumer demand, developed by effectively targeted and executed campaigns, particularly when that shift in demand is from a cheaper to a premium product.  One has only to look at the stunning success of Fairtrade to see the results of a single-minded campaign: in 2001 the organic market was 14 times larger than Fairtrade sales; in 2011 Fairtrade was 4% larger than organic at £1.7bn and has continued to grow during the recession.  In addition, unlike organic, Fairtrade does not have the advantage of a direct tangible benefit to the consumer, other than a feeling of having made a difference to others.

There are many examples of highly successful organic brands in the UK, such as Yeo Valley, Green & Black’s, Organix and Rachel’s, which have adopted appropriate marketing strategies to develop their markets and grow their brand franchises.  Developing the market for a generic product requires different strategies, tools and techniques, however.  Above all, it needs the ability to really listen to what the consumer is saying and to provide what she or he is asking for; for some, exercising this level of humility appears a little difficult.

A willingness to understand the consumer

At a recent Soil Association trade briefing the results of a round of qualitative consumer research were presented.  The key findings to this audience member were fascinating, not because they revealed anything particularly new, but reconfirmed all the key insights that OMSCo (Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative) discovered from its research over ten years previously.  A key revelation is that most consumers have very little clue what organic is, and what makes it different.  As the presenter said “there is a void of understanding”, yet the consumer positively wants to know more.  Another major finding is that price is a red herring – if consumers cannot understand what makes the product different they are unable to complete the value equation.  Thirdly, it is clear that health is the primary (but not the only) motivator for purchasing organic.

The solution for the UK organic market is as clear today as it was to OMSCo in 2001: give the consumer the facts to enable them to make an informed decision.  So why is this not happening?  The simple reason is that the organic industry, with a number of honourable exceptions (such as the brands cited above), is dominated by producer-led thinking.  This includes the inability to see things from the point-of-view of consumers (or often even to conduct research to find out those views) and a disregard of one of the basic techniques of strategic marketing – that of segmentation.

Removing the blinkers

Many in the world of organics are so steeped in the benefits of the production system that they seem unable to see that consumers will simply turn away if presented with a confusion of reasons to switch their purchasing habits.  Consumers are also unthinkingly all thrown into one undifferentiated mass (the Soil Association talks of targeting “everyone”), rather than understood as the separate market segments that they are.  For a good example of a comprehensive – but practically focused – segmentation study, the recently released Regeneration Roadmap research report entitled ‘Re: Thinking Consumption – Consumers & The Future of Sustainability’ is an excellent example.  Segmentation does not have to be quite as sophisticated as this, but the right thought process is critical: blind belief in one’s own infallible understanding of the market will simply not cut the mustard.  Nor will a mistaken belief that retailers will do the job for you.

This refusal to really understand, and engage with, the consumer was made clear to me by a senior figure in the industry many years ago who said “there’s no need to do market research”.  I was also told by this same person that the proposition for organic milk should be “All milk is good – organic milk is even better”.  This, frankly, rather vacuous observation betrays a viewpoint not based upon facts, but a rather condescending attitude in its refusal to accept what the consumer is thinking and saying.  The task is not to communicate that an entire product category is good (which the consumer largely believes already) and that your product is a bit better in some ill-defined way; it is to give a compelling reason as to why your product is sufficiently superior to command a price premium that is worth paying.

Transparency not fudge

The biggest problem has been the decision by many in the industry to place the fear of upsetting conventional farmers above the need for consumers to be told the truth about what happens on non-organic farms, including some of the worst practices.  This lack of transparency, in clarifying the real differences between the farming systems, is often explained away by the observation that some conventional farmers’ practices are nearly as good as (or sometimes better than) those of organic farmers.  This may be so, but it is irrelevant.  How is the consumer supposed to be able to tell the difference between a product from a non-organic ‘good’ farm and a ‘bad’ one?  This rather contemptuous attitude towards the consumer ignores how we all rely on brands (in this case ‘organic’) to give us a short-cut to making informed choices.  It would be inconceivable for a normal brand to omit to tell its potential customers how exactly it was a better choice because of the drawbacks of its competitors.  Once given the facts – the plain truth, not a vanilla fudge which helps to protect intensive farming – consumers can draw their own conclusions about the implications for their health and that of their families.

Non-organic farmers should, in any case, surely be encouraged to convert.  This will be best accomplished by building a healthy and growing organic market, to give confidence to more conventional farmers to switch their production system, particularly those who already farm in more enlightened ways.  But having converted, and taken on board the consequential additional costs, producers cannot expect consumers to pay the price, required to produce a sufficient return, without fully explaining the basis for the product’s superiority.

The mantra from the Soil Association appears to be one of just “telling positive stories” to the consumer, which includes explaining what organic systems involve and what they avoid – but not the reality of the alternative, that most people buy most of the time.    The Soil Association website provides some good background material on pertinent issues, such as how the use of farm antibiotics is affecting human health but much of the information is not made available in a consumer-friendly form that an audience can readily understand and act upon.  Compare this to the way that Fairtrade makes clear the issues surrounding the sourcing of bananas.

This coyness does not, almost certainly, reflect the arguments that those in the industry would use face-to-face to try to persuade an enquirer as to why a switch to organic makes sense.  Fairtrade is booming in significant part because consumers have been made aware of what conditions can be like for small-scale farmers and workers in the developing world.  The majority of eggs purchased in the UK now are free-range (at a premium of up to 30%), because consumers have been made aware of the conditions that battery hens suffer.  The unwillingness to convey a sufficiently explained and compelling message also opens up the organic movement to competition from weaker propositions, such as Bill Oddy’s White & Wild milk or the new ‘free-range’ initiative.

Focusing on the key issue

Another key problem that has dogged the development of the organic market is an unwillingness to communicate a simple, focused, message that will cut through the noise, as all the best brand campaigns do.  That message should clearly be related to health, as all the research that has ever been carried out with consumers in the UK on organics show.  The qualitative research recently conducted by the SA confirmed it, as does the quantitative research referenced in the 2012 Organic market report, which cites health-related issues as the top three reasons for buying organic by consumers.

So why does so much organic communication continue to deploy a confusion of messages, particularly in advertising?  Just about the first thing that advertising practitioners, and the clients who use advertising, are taught is that you should concentrate on one key message in a campaign.  One of the reasons for the confusion of messages appears to be the inability of organic practitioners to see that the viewpoint of most consumers is very different from their own.  Whereas for many working in organics environmental and animal welfare factors (quite admirably) are seen as the biggest single reasons for switching, for instance, the health of themselves and their families is, as already stated, the biggest motivator for most consumers.

Another reason given for not talking about health-related issues is the regulatory difficulties in making claims and comparisons.  There is no question that this can be demanding, but it is not impossible (as the OMSCo campaign showed), and is simply an obstacle to be overcome: using it as a reason to talk about something else as the key message, such as animal welfare, is absurd when health is clearly the key motivator for potential new switchers.  It is argued that we cannot claim that “organic is healthier”: this is correct, even though we may all believe that the statement is true, but we don’t have to claim it as such.  However, give the consumer the facts about the massive use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers on intensive farms, for instance, and they will draw the obvious conclusions.

A failure of strategy and execution

The Organic Trade Board’s  generic campaign for organic – with match-funded EU money, giving a pot of £2m – completely failed at its first attempt (‘Why I Love Organic’).  An objective was set in 2008 to double the value of the organic market by 2013, whereas it has actually shrunk by 20% so far, as previously stated.

There initially appeared to be no attempt at appropriate market segmentation or targeting: comment around the time of the launch talked about “focussing on broadening the customer base rather than encouraging already committed shoppers”.  This appeared to demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the market, which obeys the classic 80:20 Pareto principle – i.e. 80% of sales are accounted for by only 20% of purchasers (the figures have hovered around this ratio for over 10 years).  With household penetration of organic food at around 80%, there is no point in increasing penetration (“broadening the customer base”), or, of course, in focusing on the heavy purchasers at the other end of the market.  The key target market is clearly the occasional organic buyers (or sub-segments of this large group), who account for around 80% of all purchasers.

Executionally, the campaign took a disastrous approach for the first year.  Breaking the cardinal rule of advertising already alluded to, the advertising used a perplexing range of bland reasons, attributed to convinced organic users.  As the 2011 Organic Market Report stated: “Its main messages focus on four key benefits – organic farming is better for nature and for animal welfare, and it delivers great-tasting, more natural food”.  The use of the word “focus” creates an oxymoron in conjunction with no less than four key messages, and the single-minded message related to health, needed to attract attention and achieve cut-through, was nowhere to be seen.

Unsurprisingly, a new campaign was launched in May 2012, using the strapline ‘Organic.  Naturally different’.   The execution is definitely more attention-grabbing and incisive, is more focused on health-related issues and is more prepared to allude to differences with non-organic production.  It also is correctly being targeted at occasional organic purchasers.  However, a poster campaign can never begin to explain what is being timidly intimated at.  In addition, there would still appear to be some belief that it is necessary to be targeted “at everyone”.

PR and online activity are, in any case, far more effective vehicles than advertising for conveying factual stories with some key details to absorb.  Unfortunately, even here, the campaign appeared to fail, on at least one occasion.  Advertising can work extremely well for building rapid awareness for brands (e.g. Yeo Valley), and then reinforcing  and sustaining loyalty; it is a poor vehicle for communicating a variety of messages for a generic category (or categories), however.  Advertising is more fun, however, and creates a higher trade profile, whereas PR and online require ongoing and sustained hard work and attention to detail.

One of the Tube cross-track poster executions, in the new campaign, deploys two apples discussing the use of “treatments” by one of them.  The sort of killer information that would be more likely to result in a change in consumer behaviour, which is what one would presume everyone in the organic industry wants, is contained in a Soil Association statement quoted in Marketing magazine on 12 August 2009, however.  It stated that “consumers should be worried that the average industrially produced apple may have been sprayed up to 16 times with 30 different chemicals”.  This is precisely the kind of information that PR and online activity is far better suited to communicating, and also far more hard-hitting.  With a much higher communications budget, there could be a useful complementary role for advertising as well, but that really is not the case here.

Learning from success

It is not as though the successful template did not already exist, in OMSCo’s strategy from 2001-2006.  The 5-year PR campaign, that flowed from the strategy, single-mindedly concentrated on health-related issues, using facts about organic versus conventional production and the growing scientific evidence of nutritional benefits (e.g. higher omega 3 levels).  The key proposition was that it’s worth paying more for organic milk because it’s better for you.  Other benefits were not ignored, but they played a minor role in the campaign.  The result of this strategy was that annual sales growth for total UK organic milk sales never dipped below 21% over the period and went as high as 44% (liquid milk annual sales increases went up as high as 65% per year).  Household penetration of organic milk meanwhile went from 8% to 24%.  (For full details on this very successful case study refer to the post “Cows eat grass, so how can milk be organic?”).

A critical lesson from the OMSCo experience was one that confirmed a key conclusion drawn from the research alluded to early on in this piece.   The retail price premium for organic milk over ordinary milk at point-of-sale was 50% in 2001, dropping to a minimum of 23%, and rising again to 40% in 2006, at the same time as we were seeing huge increases in consumer uptake.  Yet many in the industry routinely bang on now, as then, about the “need to compete on price”.  It is another instance of an apparent obliviousness to the fundamentals of strategic marketing, in this case the role of pricing in supporting premium products, examples of which exist in vast abundance.  A price premium only becomes an issue when there is a complete failure to communicate effectively the benefits of organic products.  The consumer viewpoint is “if it’s that much better, I expect to pay more for it; if it costs the same, or thereabouts, it can’t be as good as you say it is.”

Until the organic movement is prepared to adopt the basic principles of good strategic marketing, such as understanding your consumer, segmenting the market appropriately, careful targeting, establishing the optimum positioning, using the most effective media and telling a consistent single-minded message backed up by the plain facts, the market will continue to stumble.   This learning can be applied to the building of all markets for sustainable products, however.  Using the most persuasive message, whatever it is, is more likely to result in the achievement of all the sustainability objectives and eventually reach ‘everyone’ in the market.  Let go of the producer-led thinking and, using consumer insight and professional marketing expertise as a guide, realise the potential that exists for the bold.

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About David Whiting

I help organizations to create competitive advantage, build brands and develop new opportunities, in particular by aligning sustainability understanding with customer insights
This entry was posted in Developing Sustainability Marketing, Understanding Marketing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Is the British organic movement losing the plot?

  1. Rachel says:

    Having studied journalism and freelance-edited literary fiction and creative nonfiction prior to managing editorial for sustainable developer Amble Resorts’ travel blog, I maintain a deep respect for concision. ‘Organic: naturally different’ embodies the core sentiment underlying the consumer’s choice for buying organic, albeit glossing over volumes’ worth of intricacies that true devotees just love to wallow in via the more thorough treatment the subject of organic farming deserves on blogs, company websites, etc. But the brevity is key to communing groups of diverse consumers at different levels of engagagement around the concept, and seeing this market flourish in the UK as it has done elsewhere.

  2. Thanks, Rachel, for your comment. I agree with you that ‘Organic. Naturally different’ is an appropriate – clever even – strapline for use on posters as an advertising medium, where brevity – as you say – is key. I also agree that true devotees can wallow in their complexities. I’m arguing for something else entirely: a simple single-minded message communicated via appropriate media such as PR and digital activity, that is also explained in a compelling way – i.e. neither simplistic nor complex. Without this I remain to be convinced that the poster campaign will achieve much, because consumers lack a fuller picture.

  3. Rachel says:

    David — I re-read (there’s a LOT going on) with your comment in mind… We appear to agree that an oversimplified mantra-type phrase has a potential to rally consumers around “organic”, and I’ll also support your call for a “simple single-minded message” as a more enduringly effective way to help the market for organic grow. I believe storytelling techniques must inform this message, while preserving a sense of raw, documentary-style transparency, to engage consumers in a narrative of planet-conscious wellness and harmonious living. That is the promise organic must make through its marketing, and you’ve done well to lament the inability of producers to see this.

  4. OrganicTruth says:

    David – the real question on many peoples’ lips in the industry namely “is organics just a lost cause” and “will organics fail”? Firstly there’s the urgent need to awaken those supporting organics to the misconceptions that the organic sector is undergoing some meteoric rise. Here’s an example from Green Money Journal: Green Money “In the U.S., sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to over $31 billion today. Even during the recent economic downturn the organic sector grew at a much faster pace than the conventional food sector. Organic food sales now represent about five percent of all U.S. food sales. The organic industry grew by nine percent in 2011, adding new jobs at four times the national average. Organic is a growth engine for the economy.” Whew. Let take a deep breath here – organic’s leadership put forth that the annual value of organics is $59 billion (Source: FiBL & IFOAM 2012). What needs to be realized is that organics sales in some markets are slowing, and in some cases actually reversing (like the UK) and the conversation is now turning to from “can organics grow” to “will organics survive”? This all has to be viewed from the perspective of competing agri-technologies i.e. Conventional (GM + more intensive use of fertilizers) vs.organic. While the organic sector likes to claim huge increases in organic farmland now totaling 37 million hectares after 20 years of efforts to promote organic. This according to this Swiss FiBL research institute that issues an annual report that notably fails to declared year-on-year growth has recently been bolstered by the huge tracts of organic Australian and Brazilian ranch land. Strip this ranch land out and growth is actually anemic. Contrast this to increases in GM farmland at 330 million hectares, and about 10% of total global agricultural production in just 8-10 years. GM farmgate sales are $575 billion for 2010 with organic reporting market value of $55 billion (again the tricks-at-play as organic reporters namely FiBL and International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements IFOAM fail to widely declare that this $55 billion is for retail sales not farm gate sales). Lets now put organic’s $59 billion into perspective against global food and beverage retail sales that reached $13 trillion for 2011-12. What’s the billion to trillion ratio? Its 1:1,000 – so think the 5 minute trip/one mile trip to the local grocer compared the 12 hours needed for a 1,000 mile road trip. Hopefully for you all this puts organic’s share of the global food system is 0,46%. Hardly impressive. And, to reiterate over the last 10 years – from scratch – GM agriculture’s share of global agriculture is 10x that of organic’s. So lets be clear – organics is more a story of failure than success. This is about a job not done. (Think Clint Eastwood talking to the Chair). A culture of mediocrity has taken hold within organic’s leadership rank and to be fair this is more among the Swiss and Europeans rather than their US counterparts. On analysis it occurs that Swiss and European organic “leadership” possess the criteria recorded in a recently published article entitled “The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives”. In fact the new descriptor ineptocracy comes to mind. Organic’s slide is not the result of ineptitude, but stems, also, from a lack of strategy and coherent policies. The present “leadership” incumbents standing in the way of what needs doing to advance organic are directionless. They clearly favor inertia more than change. Their mentality is certainly never going to accept leaving the comfort of “what is” to “what could be.” So its just insane for any of us to believe that the end goal for these organizations is to convert a majority, or all, of the World’s agriculture to organic farming methods. As Albert Einstein said: “There is nothing more that is a certain sign of insanity than to do the same thing over and over and expect the results to be different.” Believing the likes of FiBL and IFOAM can produce a new future for organics is like entering a donkey into the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe or Kentucky Derby. Actually we should consider that organic’s is in fact hamstrung by being Swiss dominated (FiBL is Swiss and as is IFOAM’s Director). Of course the Swiss can be logical, reasonable – good at ordinary and predictable tasks; the kind of tasks which keep the status quo moving along slowly and sensibly. But call on them for the exceptional, ask to change things, presents a giant challenge? Certainly they are not big solution thinkers. In case this is misconstrued lets note this is the view of a prominent Swiss national, Xavier Comtesse, formerly head of the Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education, who said of his Swiss countrymen in 2001: “You never hear a Swiss say: I want to change the World ….” FiBL and IFOAM are by far garnering most of the funding and resources aimed at advancing organic but after 40 years what’s the result? What’s the ROI? 0,46% actually. And if we would like to see the day when organic is taken seriously, and is widely adopted, we have to consider organic’s leadership deficit and answer the question “who will do this?” Firstly to move forward we need to confront failure. Organic is going nowhere without results-oriented leaders. For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start doing things differently and the hopes of this forum, in contrast to what is not going to be delivered by the Swiss and Europeans, is best summed up by a movie quote – “Boy I got vision and the rest are wearing biofocals” – (Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid). Organic’s opportunity is now – growth isn’t something we can wait for – its something that needs to be achieved. Leaders make the future not “false idols” and you don’t do extraordinary things by doing ordinary things. So new, emergent leaders are required. Proven leaders capable of inventing a new future for organics and rapidly decoupling the organic-failure perception. These new leaders will be strategic leaders, change-agents, organizers, enablers, network connectors, catalysts and experts in measurement and evaluation to prove the impact of what they do. And we need to find them fast because if change doesn’t come the very real fear is that organics will fail. Organic’s failure is also systemic suggesting we tear everything down, start with a completely fresh piece of paper and say how to do we solve this problem. Sadly the story of organics is badly broken…. currently the industry doesn’t have a growth problem, we have a narrative problem. And if we try to fix the problem using the same strategy and language, we’ll still have a problem.

  5. RasTinny says:

    “The simple reason is that the organic industry, with a number of honourable exceptions (such as the brands cited above), is dominated by producer-led thinking. This includes the inability to see things from the point-of-view of consumers (or often even to conduct research to find out those views) and a disregard of one of the basic techniques of strategic marketing – that of segmentation.”

    In my humble opinion the very name sustainabilityneedsmarketing is oxymoronic. Sustainability is about meeting needs of humans and ecosystems while marketing is about creating needs which some would view as inherently unsustainable. Most scientists would agree that a more sustainable future depends on especially people in the global West consuming less which may not even exclude organic products. Marketing is about getting people to consume more. I do think there is a great need about educating people especially young people about farming and about how agricultural products come to being. There is need for research on the effects of our consumption patterns on our bodies and our ecosystems but this research should be aimed at improving our lives and the quality of our ecosystems not the bank balances of marketing managers. It should therefore be done by students learning about life not people aiming at earning a living. It should be done in schools and colleges not marketing companies. Organic agriculture should in my humble opinion be about sustaining life not creating another layer of luxury. The first lesson I learned about sustainability is that contrary to Darwin’s view life is not hierarchically ordered but rather an intricate and interconnected network of life forms, in which each plays a vital role in maintaining the sustainability of the entire system. The needs of an ecosystems including those of the humans in it can there fore not be sustainably met through segmentation. To measure the success of organic agriculture in terms of sustainability by looking at market share in stead of the quality of ecosystems and the health effects on humans is in my opinion ‘missing the point’ Blessed love

    • ged buffee says:

      Firstly its a bit one dimensional to get down on marketing say it’s just about getting people to consumer more.
      Agreed more conscientious questioning will bring about the realization that current marketing processes perpetuates non-sustainable lifestyles and help effectively transition marketers from the “Marketing More ” approach to a “Marketing Good, Marketing Less” model. This “Marketing Good, Marketing Less” model is not new and in fact in the late 1960’s noted economist E F Shumacher made a case for it when he wrote on the inappropriateness of materialism in his book (“Small is Beautiful”). “We shrink back from the truth if we believe that the destructive forces of the modern world can be brought under control, simply by mobilizing more resources – of wealth, education and research – to fight pollution, to preserve wildlife, to discover new sources of energy and to arrive at more effective agreements on peaceful coexistence. Needless to say wealth, education, research and many other things are needed for any civilization, but what is most needed today is a revision of the ends which these means are meant to serve. And this implies, above all else, the development of a life-style (self-abnegation) which accords to material things their proper, legitimate place, which is secondary not primary”. Marketing has a vital role to play in this but only if marketing recalibrates; fully buying into the notion that “ more” is the problem and “less” is the solution.
      However to get there consumers’ behaviour has to change. SOCIAL MARKETING influences and changes behaviour. Lets look at SUSTAINABILITY – In order to understand this concept in the context of organic, consumers would need to understand more about the environmental impacts of farming, the idea that farm products contain hidden environmental costs that need to be paid later, and on the highest level, the idea that no-one is currently managing the food system with a long-term view. Buying organic food is a statement of principle. It means supporting a model of agriculture that is on the side of life, and resisting the destruction of our environment. It means rejecting the madness of consumer society, respecting animals, and looking after our bodies. It also means taking responsibility for our choices in one of the few areas where it can still be done. It is a form of freedom and of hope, and a way of fighting for a better world.Since these ideas are not part of average people’s conceptual repertoire, the values that are important to advocates –including stewardship and responsible management of resources, for example – need to be marketed to the public.
      Coming back to the targeting market share its clear that the organic sector needs to become more oriented to success aiming to at least double every five years with the goal to build a 20- 30% market position in the food and agricultural system. Then the full range of organics’ critically needed socio-ecological benefits will begin to flow and impact. Growth isn’t something we can wait for. Its something that absolutely and critically needs to be achieved. On this basis everyday I put my marketing experience and skills to sell “more” organics. More organics more benefit.

  6. Ras Tinny – thank you for your contribution. You might be surprised to learn that I agree with much of what you say. Where I disagree with you is, I think, down to an insufficient understanding of marketing on your part. Unfortunately, as a discipline, marketing has been terribly tarnished by its worst practitioners, but if you take the time to understand the theory of marketing and look at some of its best practitioners, you might not quite so readily paint it in the terms you do. I, for one, would not have spent a career in marketing if all it was about was “getting people to consumer more” or improving my bank balance. At its heart, it is about understanding and responding to the needs and wants (not just material ones) of customers – whoever they are – and is thus often deployed as a discipline in non-profit, non-commercial environments, as well as by companies. Within the marketing and business community there is an ever-growing concern about the implications of limited resources and over-consumption, and the appropriate responses. What you would like to see happening, and the contribution that marketing can make, are not, I believe, antithetical.

  7. The just-published Co-operative Bank Ethical Consumer Markets Report 2012 (http://www.co-operative.coop/corporate/Investors/Publications/Ethical-Consumerism-Report/) confirms that, out of 10 ethical food and drink categories, organic was the only one that declined in value during the most recent year. By contrast, Fairtrade grew by 24% and sustainable fish by 32%; even free-range eggs grew by 6%.

    Searching questions should be being asked of those charged with growing the organic category in the UK, but don’t hold your breath…

  8. jobess says:

    Well, how much of that decline (and the increase in Fair Trade & sustainable fish & free range eggs) is down to supermarkets determining the availability of those products? The Soil Association says supermarkets have responded to the recession by choice-editing out many organic lines. You can’t buy what isn’t there. In some shops it’s quite hard to avoid fair trade bananas, but difficult to find organic ones.

    And I imagine there would be huge pressure from the supermarkets on the organic sector not to lay into ‘conventional’ food – supermarkets make high margins on fresh fruit/veg, which is the top segment for organic consumers (pesticide-free, etc) and thus the obvious target for a bit of conventional-bashing copy to persuade occasional purchasers. I can’t see that going down well at Asda HQ. What does that say about the rest of the fruit & veg they sell?

    And what about pressure from government: how do you persuade people to eat 5-a-day if they are being told that their fruit/veg is covered in pesticides? And so what – are the levels dangerous? Can you back that up with evidence for the ASA? The health evidence for organic milk/meat is just about there (polyunsaturated fats, etc) but for fruit & veg it’s pretty flimsy.

  9. jobess – thanks very much for your contribution. I acknowledge that the supermarkets haven’t helped by reducing the space given to organic ranges in store – but they are responding to lack of demand. Supermarkets will give space to brands, products and ranges if they are being supported, growing and offer a better margin – which is exactly what happened with organic milk.

    There is a slow, but very focused, educational job to be done, backed up – where data is available – with substantiated claims. The aim is to raise doubts in the minds of consumers, who already buy organic from time to time, about more of the conventional products they are buying. If we ever reach a stage where most consumers are becoming concerned about the level of pesticides on conventional fruit and vegetables I suspect the argument will be largely won already.

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