Friday, January 30, 2009
Grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, organic food has been booming, driven by claims it is healthier, tastes better and its production does less damage to the environment than conventional agriculture. Customers have shown their enthusiasm about the benefits worldwide with typical growth in the U.S alone at 20-30%. But the recession has driven even the loyal organic consumer to cut corners - resulting in slowing sales in U.S., Britain, France and Germany. Yet some remain optimistic, believing that the down turn is only short term, and ultimately the organic market will show it's resiliency
Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, said occasional buyers of organic produce were cutting back, but regular buyers were lightening up on processed food in favour of organic whole fruits, vegetables and meats.
"They are trying to stretch their money but they are not willing to stop buying organic," he said. "We think in the long run the prognosis is good. The energy crisis and climate change can only really be addressed with organic production."
"When you buy organic you believe it is inherently better for you and the planet," he said. "Who can afford to get sick? So people are becoming more introspective about what they eat. There is growth in the category. It is just less than it was."
In the U.S., typical growth rates of 20 percent to 30 percent for organic food sales eased in the second half of 2008. Sales in December were up 5.6 percent, but growth was paltry compared with the 25.6 percent rise a year earlier. In Germany, organic food sales in 2008 grew 10 percent to 5.8 million euros, the German organic food industry association BOLW estimates. But that’s a slowdown compared with 14 percent growth booked in 2007. Growth in sales of organic products slowed dramatically in Britain, to an annual rate of about 2 percent from 16 percent, according to Nielsen data for the year to early November 2008. In France, the sector continued to grow last year and the head of "Agence Bio", the main organic food group gathering officials and producers, said she was confident it would continue to do so, albeit more slowly, in 2009.
Patrick Holden, director of Britain’s leading organic certification body the Soil Association, said he was getting mixed reports, with some consumers switching from organic to cheaper free-range products. Demand for many products is, however, holding up well. Some are benefiting from growing demand for locally produced food.
"Organic food with a local story is bucking the recession," he said. "This recession has destabilized things a little, but not catastrophically."
Mr. Holden said about 20% of organic food sales were vulnerable, being bought by "light green" purchasers who had been influenced by the actions of other consumers. These he contrasted with the "deep greens" who make up 80% of demand and are committed to the benefits for health and the environment.
"Storm and tempest won’t affect their buying habits," he said. "I think that rump of committed consumers [is] with us to stay."
(Source: Reuters, Environmental Leader)