The food we all deserve
Roger Mortlock - 04 April 2011
The Soil Association Organic Market Report is out today – and with it the usual doom and gloom linking the fortunes of the organic market entirely to the recession. The dominant logic is that when money gets tight, people trade down their food choices. OK, clearly the recession has had an impact, but the recent blip in organic sales is very much a UK phenomenon – despite the worldwide economic downturn.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit France and Germany recently talking to retailers, organic farmers and businesses about the challenges they face. While none of them are worry-free, both these countries are experiencing double digit growth in their organic sales.
A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to quiz Carrefour, the world’s second biggest retailer. We had gone to speak to them about their pioneering work in labelling their own brand meat and fish as GMO free (an amazing feat in itself). Yet as we sat in the reception of their headquarters watching a promo film proudly backing their commitment to organic food, you sensed another huge cultural difference. Asked about why Carrefour had chosen to back organic so publicly, their group sustainability director looked puzzled: ‘because we believe it is the right thing to do, of course’.
So why else is the UK organic market experiencing a blip where elsewhere in Europe the organic market is recession busting? Our recent ‘Lazy Man of Europe’ report has some of the answers I’m sure. Elsewhere in Europe, the focus is on normalising organic food. Now we’ve published the report we are following up with an inquiry about why attitudes in the UK, particularly among policy makers and governments, have struggled to support organic in the way that mainland Europeans have found so natural.
Confidence in our own market is now building. Most are predicting flat sales or growth in the coming year – and the industry-funded ‘Why I love organic’ campaign plus Yeo Valley’s rapping farmers demonstrate real creativity in communicating the benefits of organic to the public. What these examples, and all the evidence from the flourishing organic markets in mainland Europe demonstrate, is that success comes from making organic seem ‘the right thing to do’. It’s not niche, or special, or premium. It’s just the food we all deserve.
Roger Mortlock is Deputy Director of the Soil Association. His previous career - which included stints in education, public health and even a spell in the arts - could be described as eclectic; if 'eclectic' is latin for 'all over the place'. His defence is that the only thing that links it all together is a commitment to positive health and well-being; something right at the heart of the founding vision of the Soil Association. He works on campaigns, policy and our programmes, including chairing the Food for Life Partnership.
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