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Organic Export Survey 2018 results

Organic Export Survey 2018 results

We have a very healthy organic market in the UK. With organic food and drink approaching £2B, we are now in our seventh year of growth, and overall value has finally exceeded pre-recessional levels. All very positive, but we’ve also recently been knocked-off our number four spot in the league table of global organic markets. Boasting a market estimated to be worth more than US$7B, China has usurped the UK and is rapidly catching up with second and third place organic powerhouses Germany and France. How soon China will challenge the US and their staggering $50B per year market is difficult to say, but current growth rates suggest that might happen within the next decade.

Being pipped by a super-power playing organic catch-up, I think we can live with, but how do we ensure we don’t slip any further down the table? One way to support growth is to support export, and when it comes to organic food and drink export, we’ve got a little catching up to do. According to the UK government, food and drink export currently accounts for over 19% of all sector value. From January to December 2017, the UK sent £85 million worth of cheese to France, £21 million of chocolate to Belgium and even £2 million of tea to China! Based on sales data provided by Soil Association organic licensees, organic exports only appear to make up 8.5% of sales, which for me says one thing: opportunity.

With Brexit spinning towards us with all the certainty of a wobbly roulette wheel, the food and drink industry is more focused on international trade than ever, and the government certainly has big ambitions. Indeed, key groups such as the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) have been working with government to secure an important sector deal for the industry to ensure we don’t get left behind. Among their proposals are detailed plans outlining how the industry might fulfil its full export potential, building on research which identified markets manufacturers would like to target. One of these markets is Japan, where UK exports of food and drink have grown over the past ten years, but at a rate below the average growth rate of exports from EU27 nations. The Department for International Trade are also pushing export harder than ever, with a raft of what it calls ‘High Value Campaigns’ targeting an ever-expanding list of promising target countries, marketing the UK offer under the conspicuous ‘Food is GREAT’ banner.

We in the organic food and drink sector need to play our part in all of this. In fact, our rather special proposition offers the international consumer tradition and innovation backed up by compliance with some of the toughest standard on Earth. Standards covering welfare, environment and product constituents delivers a high integrity product, which gives us a big advantage. Although we are blessed with some very active exporters in our sector, it’s clear that more could be done to encourage other businesses to consider penning an export plan. But, before we get too excited, it seems prudent to get to grips with the current performance and reflect on what it is that prevents businesses from looking outside the UK. We also need to know what factors preclude more trade activity on the part of those already engaged. Gaining a better understanding in this regard is key to not only delivering more focused support, both from bodies like ours and the government, but also making the case for continued support for export. This is part of a wider conversation with policy makers that includes such issues as trade balance and more support for domestic production. After all, we need to ensure we have something to export. It’s these arguments that have, in-part, ensured that the proposal English Organic Action Plan – wide-ranging roadmap for sustainable land use, farming and healthy food – specifically covers export as it's placed before the Secretary of State.

Earlier this year, we led an important survey targeting organic businesses to help Soil Association Certification get a better handle on organic export. With the help of the UK’s second largest organic certifier, OF&G our collaborative effort reached over a hundred certified organic business. The survey findings provided a level of detail not seen in previous surveys, covering business scales, export performance, prospects, priorities, barriers and preferred sources of support. This has delivered many important insights, including a clearer view of the country trend for larger and smaller value exports. 

If you're interested to learn more about our survey findings, then you can download a copy from our Export Support pages, where you’ll find details of some of our other support for business, including global market guidance and events to help exporters get up-to-speed on market access considerations. In the meantime, we’re going to take another hard look at those finding and revaluate our support for exporters to ensure we are supporting our licensees export ambition to the best of our ability.

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