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The UK organic market grew 4.5% in 2019 to be worth £2.45 billion and is on track to hit £2.5 billion this year, according to the Soil Association Organic Market Report published today.

It’s the eighth consecutive year of growth for the sector, set against the backdrop of a sluggish overall food and drink market.

The annual survey of the UK organic scene reveals that supermarket sales of organic increased by 2.4%, outpacing the overall market, despite their overall share of the UK’s organic market falling 1% to 64.6%. Independent retailers meanwhile enjoyed a 6.5% rise in sales of organic in 2019.

The biggest growth category for organic was online and home delivery, with sales growing 11.2%. Soil Association Certification put the success of this channel – which includes organic veg box schemes and online retailers like Ocado – down to its especially wide organic offer.

Ocado, the UK’s biggest organic online retailer, notably benefitted from this trend, expanding its organic lines to over 4,500 and enjoying a 12% sales increase. Searches on the Soil Association (SA) website for ‘organic box scheme’ increased 174% year on year to the end of 2019.

Plant-based influence
The report shows that organic sales have not been isolated from the rise in popularity of plant-based foods. The share of total organic sales accountable through deli and chilled convenience – where many vegan options are categorized – is 15 times bigger than it was in 2015. Bucking this trend, organic poultry and eggs each saw sales increase over 12%.

Almost a quarter of the amount the UK spends on organic in foodservice is through the SA’s Food for Life Served Here; £23.2 million is now spent on organic through this scheme in schools, hospitals and other public settings – up from £19.5 million in 2018.

Overall, organic foodservice saw an 8.3% rise in sales, thanks in part to more organic milk and snacks on offer at high street chains, including Pret a Manger, McDonalds and Wetherspoons. Research also indicates that around two thirds of people believing ethical considerations matter when choosing where to eat.

Away from food and drink, sales of certified organic and natural beauty and wellbeing products grew by an impressive 23%, while sales of Soil Association Certification-certified organic textiles increased 10% in 2019. A separate Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Market Report will be published on 13 February.

The report says organic beauty and wellbeing increasingly chimes with consumers who are aligned with the growing environment and climate movements. Additional good news for the category is that more consumers are looking for trusted labels, like organic, when choosing beauty products. That said, greenwashing remains an issue because of comparatively lax rules over the use of the term organic in beauty and cosmetics (in this category any brand can claim to be organic if it contains just 1% organic ingredients).

Cheers to organic wine’s success
Organic wine was 2019’s most obvious standout success story. Sales increased by 47% to reach £50 million, as retailers from Waitrose to Aldi responded to shoppers’ demand for “low-impact wines” made without pesticides and expanded their ranges.

Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association Certification, said: With the climate crisis and British farming dominating the headlines, organic is more relevant than ever as a way for shoppers looking for simple choices to reduce their environmental impact … 2019 was another exciting year for organic and 2020 will be a tipping point where organic becomes the go-to choice for shoppers who want to have a sustainable shopping basket.

“Organic certification means people can be sure that what they are buying has been produced to the highest environmental and animal-welfare standards. The remarkable success of organic wine last year is proof that the demand for nature-friendly products is there, and that if retailers stock more organic, shoppers will buy it.”

International context
Organic’s share of the total food and drink market is almost unchanged (1.6% compared with 1.5% in 2018). This is well below Europe’s higher performers by this measure (With Denmark and Sweden’s organic sectors at 11.5% and 9% respectively, and Germany at 5.1%). The UK however remains a top ten organic global player, even though it has dropped from seventh to ninth in global sales of organic – in part due to strong performances by France and Italy in the last few years, but also as a byproduct of economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit over the last three years. However, the report notes, export markets, like Australia, New Zealand and Asia are likely to become more attractive destinations for UK organic.

Report highlights

  • Organic market continues its solid growth of the last eight years, growing 4.5% in 2019 to reach £2.45 billion
  • £200 million a month is now spent on organic food and drink as rise of the ‘conscious consumer’ sees shoppers making two more trips to buy organic than they did five years ago
  • UK organic market on target to hit £2.5 billion by the end of 2020 
  • Organic poultry and eggs saw sales increase over 12%, despite the rise of veganism and climate concerns causing red meat and dairy sales to fall slightly
  • Organic wine was 2019’s standout category, with sales increasing nearly 50%, as wider listings saw supermarkets cashing in on shoppers’ environmental concerns
  • Organic farmland in the UK decreased in 2019, at -8.4% 
  • Organic’s share of total food and drink sales in the UK is 1.6%

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About the Author

Jim Manson

Editor-in-chief
Jim Manson is Editor-In-Chief of Diversified Communication UK's natural and organic publishing portfolio. He’s written widely on environment and development issues for specialist magazines and national media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, Time Out and World Bank Urban Age.

Articles by Jim Manson
Jim Manson
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