Young are hungry for organic

A HIGH-PROFILE report on organic food shows sales are down again, but caterers and kids offer rays of light.


This year’s report on the state of the organic sector shows there’s life in the organic market yet. After a tough few years as consumers tightened their belts, there are some “really positive” themes emerging.


The Soil Association’s annual “Organic Market Report” provides an in-depth analysis of the global market for organic food and drink. In 2012, sales fell 1.5%; in 2011 the fall was 3.7%. This is a long way from the 22% increase in 2006 – “In a prolonged economic downturn it is hardly surprising to find subdued sales of a wide variety of goods and services”, the report begins – but there are areas of growth, and catering is one of them.


Organic catering and restaurant sales rose by 1.6% in 2012, “despite the tendency to eat out less in tough economic times”. James Twine, the organic certification body’s business development director, says more and more organisations share the values inherent in organic food, and have got over some “misconceptions” about price and availability.


“There are a lot of restaurants and caterers listing more and more organic ingredients in a way that perhaps they weren’t a few years ago,” says Twine. McDonald’s, for instance, used 21.1m litres of organic milk – up 5.5% compared with 2011.


However, it’s in the cost sector that Twine sees some of the most exciting progress thanks to the Food for Life Catering Mark.


With over 140m accredited meals served in 2012, it is the fastest growing foodservice best-practice scheme. A fifth of England’s schools are part of the scheme, which champions a whole-school approach to healthy eating and sustainable procurement. Among the primary schools involved, 28% of children are eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. And they’ve been taking the message home: 45% of parents report eating more vegetables as a result of the programme. For every £1 invested in Food for Life menus, the social, economic and environmental return on investment for the local authority is £3. Assessing the impact of the scheme, Kevin Morgan, a professor of governance and development at Cardiff University, called it “the most ambitious programme in the UK to date”.


Those involved are reporting increased uptake of school meals, but the scheme is also being used by hospitals – though none have achieved the gold standard. Given that catering still only accounts for 1% of a UK organic market worth £1.64bn, and given concerns about public procurement (seem page 4), there is plenty of life in organic yet. “People are increasingly asking about their food when they eat out,” says Twine. “And what’s really exciting is that the demographic of organic shoppers is changing – they’re getting younger.”