2020 saw the continuation of a decade of growth in the UK organic market, following 4.5% growth in 2019. But unlike any other year 2020 experienced major disruptions and changing opportunities for all food channels – and organic in particular.

UK's organic market almost doubled the growth of non-organic food in 2020
Organic September 2020 Soil Association Campaign

Growth of the UK organic market

The challenges of the Covid19 crisis, and the ongoing climate, nature and health emergencies have changed how many people view food. What has this meant for organic businesses – and how has it shifted shopping habits?

Growth of the UK organic market accelerated in 2020, with data showing organic food & drink sales year on year growth of 6.1% – almost double the growth of non-organic food and drink products (3.2%) for the 52 weeks ending 30th May 2020. The 12 weeks ending 30th May revealed the highest recorded growth in organic sales in supermarkets in over a decade. At a time when food quality and safety are of utmost importance for consumers, certified organic products provide the assurance of transparency and integrity that so many shoppers are looking for.

An increase in the purchase of food for home use, has been fuelled by the closure of foodservice, driving many shoppers to indulge in higher quality and premium lines. Everyday categories such as poultry, eggs, dairy, produce and red meat are performing well – but we’re also seeing exciting growth from emerging categories, including Wine, Chilled convenience foods and milk alternatives.  These changing behaviours seem set to support the organic sector in exceeding the targets of £2.5B set for  2020.

Citizens are shopping in new and different ways, choosing box schemes, shopping online and in independents and buying more sustainably

So what are some of the biggest changes we’ve seen – and what might they mean for organic?

Rise in organic sales for home delivery & online

As predicted, there was a surge in online and home delivery for organic – with many box schemes over-subscribed, as shoppers looked for convenient ways of receiving food at home.

Increase in organic direct to consumer sales

Many organic brands have had to transition to online selling to make up for shortfalls in other channels, and many key organic brands are now selling to customers directly via their own websites.

Closure of restaurants and cafes

Temporary closure of ‘eating out’ options has driven an estimated 10% more business into retail, and persuaded shoppers towards higher quality and premium lines that they may not buy so regularly for home consumption – such as steaks, alcohol and treats.

Organic September 2020 Soil Association Campaign

Shopper behaviours

With the climate, nature and health crises still ongoing, 2020 fast-tracked already changing shopper behaviours towards personal health, transparency and integrity. Citizens are shopping in new and different ways, choosing box schemes, shopping online and in independents and buying more sustainably. A YouGov survey commissioned by the Food Farming and Countryside Commission & The Food Foundation revealed 42% people felt the crisis made them value food more, with many cooking more from scratch and reducing their food waste. Overall appreciation of good quality food has increased, with shoppers having more time to plan their menus and their choices, which has also given rise to opportunities for citizens to get inspired by organic recipes.

With so many of us finding respite in nature in these difficult times, protecting the environment has remained a key concern for shoppers. Many citizens are thinking carefully about where their food comes from and making planet centric choices that reflect this, despite the likelihood of tighter budgets. In the long term we expect many of these shoppers to stick with organic, having discovered the benefits and the tastiness of products.

Organic 2020 – The Time is Now

This was captured in our key theme for Organic 2020 – The Time is Now, which saw the whole of the UK organic sector come together during Organic September with the unified message, Nature has the Answer. The Organic September campaign was rolled out across large, small and independent retailers alike, with colourful and consistent graphics and messaging, highlighting that one small swap really can make a world of difference – and that together, with nature, we can help restore our world.

Protecting the environment has remained a key concern for shoppers

Organic brands, retailers and businesses, have reinforced the credentials of organic during this pandemic, by continuing to produce high quality food that has been inspected to ensure it meets the highest standards – a much-needed reassurance during a period of heightened anxiety and uncertainty. As well as delivering benefits for personal health, wellness, and our environment, organic has shown the vital importance of a farming system that works with nature – rather than against it – to protect and restore biodiversity, look after our soils and help to tackle the climate crisis.

In these changing, challenging and unpredictable times, resilience is key; and organic production has this at its core. By creating and supporting a resilient and sustainable food system, which is less exposed to short term shocks we can restore a safe climate, abundant nature and good nutrition. Together, with nature we can and must help restore our world – the time for organic is now.


Author: Finn Cottle, trade consultant at Soil Association

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