FOLLOWING a 4.5% growth in sales in 2019, the UK’s organic market is now worth £2.5 billion, with £200m spent each month on organic food and drink.

Despite media attention on veganism and plant-based alternatives, the Soil Association Certification’s latest organic market report found that organic poultry and eggs had enjoyed particular success in 2019, with each increasing sales by over 12%.

DEFRA's own figures show that the total number of poultry farmed organically in the UK increased by 10% between 2017 and 2018, rising to almost 3.4 million birds, as demand from shoppers for high-welfare meat and eggs continues to increase.

Supermarkets’ overall share of the UK’s organic market fell 1% to 64.6%, as other channels ate into their dominance, notably online and home delivery, which were up 11.2%. Searches on the Soil Association website for 'organic box scheme' increased 174% year on the year, as demand for local food increased.

Welsh farmer Nathan Richards said: “We grow over 40 types of fruit and vegetables, selling direct to a hyper-local customer base through our box scheme and local farmers market. Despite market and Brexit uncertainty, we have seen strong growth in customer demand for organic, locally produced food with our box scheme numbers rising rapidly over the last year.”

The SA report highlights the growing number of farmers converting to organic, with Soil Association Certification data indicating a 12% increase in land-in-conversion to organic in 2019. Highlighting the performance of organic arable crops, the report suggested that they have been bolstered by price premiums and innovations in mechanical weeding techniques. Farmers continue to combine livestock enterprises with general cropping, with an increase in high value niche arable products, like organic quinoa, spelt and heritage varieties, along with vineyard production.

Organic arable farmer, from the 400 ha Hemsworth farm, Sophie Alexander said: “Like many agricultural sectors, Brexit has meant a year of volatility for the UK grain market with the usual imports causing a downward pressure on prices. However, I am very encouraged by the continued growth in the organic market generally and I value the fact that the higher margins achievable in organic farming give my business a degree of financial resilience.”

Almost a quarter of the amount the UK spends on organic in foodservice is through the Soil Association’s Food for Life Served Here. Now, £23.2 million is 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 UK organic milk and snacks on offer at high street chains, including Pret a Manger, McDonald’s and Wetherspoons.

Business Development Manager at Soil Association Certification, Sophie Kirk, said: “2020 is a year of opportunity for organic farmers and growers. With growth happening across multiple routes to market, and public interest in sustainable farming on the rise as we exit the European Union and the Agriculture Bill goes through Parliament, there are huge opportunities for farmers looking to diversify their businesses to meet growing consumer trends for British, sustainable food and drink.

“Organic products give consumers a legal assurance that what they are buying has been produced to the highest environmental and animal-welfare standards. The remarkable success last year of organic through home delivery and foodservice, as well as categories like eggs and poultry, are proof that the demand for nature-friendly products is there, and that if farmers can meet these trends, they can have great success.”