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With the ever-increasing focus on our health as well as that of the planet, organic produce is rising in popularity. And as this year’s Organic September initiative approaches, increasing awareness and changing consumer perceptions about organic goods is key.
What is Organic September?
The month-long Organic September campaign, organised by the Soil Association, aims to encourage more people to try organic. It’s all about promoting organic practices whilst informing consumers about organic food and other products.
In 2019, the nationwide campaign focused on the role that organic farming has to play in the climate change debate. But this year, as people become increasingly aware of the direct impact that their purchasing choices have on the environment as well as their health, Organic September is set to be a unified campaign. The aim is to ensure that consumers are aware of the various sectors where organic options are readily available, from organic apparel and homewares, to skincare products.
“The time is now for organic,” Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association Certification, told us. “Citizens want to make easy changes that will help restore nature, health and a safe climate, and this September we’ll be getting a clear message across about how organic can deliver these benefits. With one organic voice and one organic message across sectors and retailers – both large and small, from independents to multiples – we’ll show how one small swap really can make a world of difference.
Speaking about the unified approach, Rob Haward, co-owner and managing director ofRiverford , told us, “Organic is a simple way to reduce our impact on the planet and it makes sense for all relevant areas to be included in the campaign; it’s not just food where artificial chemicals and intensive production are harming the environment. The benefits of a joined up campaign will enable the message to spread more widely and show people how making a switch in their buying habits across the board can make a huge difference to the planet.
“We hope this campaign will create a ripple effect in awareness of the benefits of organic to the environment, the soil, nature, biodiversity and our own health. It’s also about encouraging people, if they can, to consider buying organic as a guaranteed sustainable option.”
A growing sector
For the food and drink industry, the organic market’s consistent growth is proving positive for the future. According to Soil Association Certification’s latest Organic Market Report, the UK’s organic market is set to hit £2.5 billion by the end of 2020. The rise of what’s commonly known as the ‘conscious consumer’ means shoppers are now spending £200m a month on organic food and drink, with organic wine proving to be the big winner, the sales of which increased nearly 50% in 2019 alone. What’s more, this year, following the COVID-19 crisis, veg box schemes in the UK rose by at least 111% between the end of February and mid-April.
“Sales of organic food continue to outpace non-organic counterparts, but the market share of the organic sector is still tiny in comparison,” Rob said. “Now is the time to shout as loudly as possible about the myriad and interconnected benefits of organic food and farming, and take a proactive decision in favour of a sustainable food system that is better equipped to deal with the climate crisis, stem the loss in biodiversity and improve diets.”
The coronavirus effect
The global pandemic has impacted every industry, but the food industry has perhaps seen the biggest change following shifts in consumer behaviour. So how has this affected the organic sector?
“We’ve seen that during the COVID-19 pandemic, organic brands, businesses and producers have been able to engage with even more customers about organic, as people look for reassurance on how their food is produced and where it’s come from, as well as trying new brands and ways of shopping,” Clare said. “The research we’re seeing shows us that there’s a new appreciation of nature and the environment, and that many of us want to keep some of the positive lifestyle changes we’ve made, with only 9% keen for a complete return to ‘normal’.”
For the Riverford team, the rise in people choosing organic has also presented an opportunity to discuss other values the brand holds close to its heart.
“We saw an unprecedented increase in people wanting to buy an organic veg box, driven not just by the need for home delivery, but a desire to eat more healthy, fresh organic food,” Rob said. “There’s never been a better time to ‘live life on the veg’, choosing a sustainable diet with no air freight, and plenty of organic fruit and veg that supports organic farmers to produce food on the land in a way that protects nature.
“As the coronavirus lockdown took hold, businesses saw a surge in demand for home delivery and organic produce. At Riverford, a simpler more streamlined range has helped us meet this demand whilst ensuring safe working conditions. This change to what we offer has meant less choice for some customers, but also an opportunity to talk about why this is not a bad thing.”
In the past, organic products have been considered to be in a higher price bracket. This year’s campaign will no doubt see organic producers and brands promote the intrinsic values of organic to showcase its value for money.
“There is indeed a premium price paid for local, organic and ethical farming, but we see this as the true cost of producing healthy food in a truly sustainable way,” Rob said. “Riverford is employee-owned and we feel that we have found a good balance so that it is a fair deal for customers, farmers and our co-owners. The labour costs involved in growing organically are higher as you need more folks in the fields rather than artificial chemicals to help the veg grow well, but buying your veg from a box scheme means it comes directly from the growers and ensures they receive fair returns.”
The digital sphere has played a key role in the industry during lockdown, and will continue to do so as the unified Organic September campaign focuses on its online space this year. Webinars, virtual pop-ups and other promotions will all help boost the campaign’s message further. So how can the fine food sector get involved?
“There will be in-store and online point-of-sale materials that brands and independent retailers can use to tell the story behind their products (be they producers or stockists), and to help shoppers understand how organic works with nature,” Clare explained. “Organic September Saturday will be a great opportunity to engage shoppers, with lots of press features to support.
“For those venturing into the digital space, there will be plenty of opportunities to join our webinars, which will cover topics like how to grow your brand online and how to engage with Organic September. There will also be content on what the organic symbol means, for climate, wildlife and soils, as well as for ourselves. We know that nature is behind everything we do in organic, and that together with nature we can help to restore the world in which we live.”