06 November 2023
Issues surrounding affordability, availability and accessibility explored.
THIS year’s Organic Trade Conference explored the ideas, opportunities and measures required to make organic food affordable, available and accessible for everyone in society
Hosted by the Soil Association, the conference featured a line-up of speakers including Daniel Zeichner MP, Shadow Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries and keynote speaker, Dr Tasmin Edwards, Professor of Climate Change, King’s College London and Mike Watkins, Head of Retailer and Business Insight, NielsenIQ.
The conference began by setting the challenge for the organic sector. If we’re to seriously tackle the urgent climate and nature crises humanity is facing, organic agriculture must be mainstreamed. Agriculture is responsible for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions and 90% of biodiversity loss. But we know that there is another way and organic agriculture represents climate action and organic food should be a right not a privilege.
The Soil Association Group used the annual trade conference to share its vision for ‘Organic For All’, an ambitious new approach for scaling organic production and consumption in the UK. Its aim to make organic affordable, available and accessible to everyone in society built on a strategy engaging everyone within the industry to create an organic action plan.
The organisation has mapped a pathway to negotiate the many complex and inherent challenges that the sector faces to make organic truly affordable, available and accessible to everyone in society. While the organic sector has enjoyed over a decade of sustained growth, this year’s conference is facing up to the problem that it is not fulfilling its full potential here in the UK and this needs to change rapidly.
Soil Association Associate Director Standards Innovation Sarah Compson said: “The organic sector has plenty to be proud of and offers genuine solutions to the climate, nature and health crises with its globally-scalable approach to food and farming. But here in the UK we have hit a bit of a wall.
“Organic food isn’t affordable, available or accessible to everyone in society. It is too niche and regrettably we do not share the same aspirations as our European neighbours where the EU has its 25% organic land target and ambitious policies and incentives to drive organic production."
The conference then explored the challenges and opportunities for this new vision for organic and the conditions necessary to build a successful plan. This included an overview of the current organic market, the political and economic opportunities and examples of how organic is successfully scaling in parts of Europe.
Shadow Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries Daniel Zeichner, then shared an insight into Labour’s agenda on sustainable farming and food ahead of the general election next year and the potential impacts on the organic sector and food and farming more widely.
Daniel said: “We all know the environmental and nature challenges we face today and accept that we will have to make changes in our lives to address these and to move to a more sustainable food and farming system. But sadly, progress to date has been painfully slow with so many broken promises and missed targets.
“The next Labour government is committed to supporting a transition to more environmental and nature friendly farming system. But we need to have everyone engaged and we must encourage all farmers to change their practices for the better and for our food manufacturers, supply chains, and retailers to work together to facilitate a more sustainable and healthy system for all.
“I am very excited to hear how the organic sector, which has pioneered much of the shift to nature friendly farming, plans to address some of the inequalities within the food sector and to ensure that organic is relevant to all and benefits everyone in society to broaden its appeal and ensure that the UK can take similar steps to shift to a more organic based food system like some of the European case studies we have heard today.”
Next Mike Watkins, Head of Retailer and Business Insight, NielsenIQ, presented an in-depth retail picture asking the question: How will organic sales bounce back? His insightful review into how organic has performed across supermarkets this year as the cost-of-living crisis developed and high inflation and interest rates continued. He also presented some predicted shopping behaviours for 2024 and what this could mean for organic.
Mike said: “With unprocessed and sustainable food rising up the shoppers' agenda, organic has an opportunity to widen its customer base as inflation subsides and continue to message that organic has a bigger role to play in ensuring that our food is safe, secure and socially responsible and is also natural and biodiverse"
Mads Sejersen Vinther, Technical Political Chief Advisor, Organic Denmark then shared a success story for organic – providing a whistlestop tour of how organic has become the success story that it is today in Denmark. Exploring the role of sector collaboration, successful consumer campaigns, and how retailer engagement has been key to making organic a regular staple in 35% of the population’s shopping baskets.
Mads said: “We have an ambitious goal to grow organic to make 30% of cultivated land is under organic production and that organic has 30% of the market by 2030 – this will be driven by consumers, by retailers and the state. We have an issue in Denmark where the vast majority of our land is producing food for animal consumption for feed – this is causing us huge environmental issues. We realise that we need to reduce animal production and increase consumption of plant-based foods – to replace the high levels of meat, milk and dairy we produce.
“Key to changing consumer perceptions has been achieved with the Danish Spirsemark (catering awards) which demands that 60% of food in public sector catering must be organic – the reality is many are using 90% organic or higher. This has helped consumers realise what they can achieve in their own kitchens and in turn this has helped retailers to increase organics share of the market. New recipes developed and shared in public catering and in high end restaurants have radically changed perceptions of what is possible, delicious and desirable.”
Concluding the conference Soil Association Certification reiterated its role in facilitating and building the Organic For All vision and called for the whole sector to join
Sarah Compson said: “Over the next few months we want to talk to the organic sector, to develop our plans together and uplift and link great work already happening, and plan new activities that drive the shared outcomes we want to see."