Blog: Dean BestOrganic needs to get on message

Dean Best | 13 April 2010

You may think otherwise but there is optimism in organic at the moment.

After the recession whacked organic sales of the UK (down almost 13% last year), you would have thought there would have been a downbeat mood at this year's Natural and Organic Products Europe show in London.

just-food's visit to Olympia yesterday (12 April) was admittedly a brief one (thanks, Andy Bond) but there was a tangible mood of determination that the recovery could bring brighter times.

Data on 2009 organic sales in the UK, unveiled by certification body The Soil Association, did not make for easy reading but the organisation's leadership were keen to point to improving trends in the early weeks of 2010.

Crucially, given the strength of the largest supermarket chains in the UK, there are also signs that some of the multiples are again boosting their organic lines after some recession-fuelled cuts, the Soil Association said.

Improved retail availability will play a vital role this summer as the UK organic sector looks to get across its message to the country's consumers.

The sector has taken some initial steps in developing a marketing campaign to promote organic food in the UK but securing EU funding (the decision is due in just a couple of months) will be key to getting the organic message to more and more people.

A large-scale marketing campaign, combined with better availability in-store, will help the organic sector in its quest to convince sceptical UK consumers that organic is not just for the wealthy, or not just for those 'down South'.

The organic 'story' is strong - the argument that organic is vital to a world producing food sustainably is robust and reasonable. But consumers still need something else to convince them to pay that little extra for organic.

The ethical pound is there - look at the strength of Fairtrade even in recession - but the support and expertise of the biggest organic companies is needed to crystalise the benefits of organic into a successful marketing message.

Because, as Finn Cottle, trading director of The Soil Association, explained at Natural Organic Products Europe, the organic sector starts at disadvantage compared to its Fairtrade counterparts.

"Fairtrade has got a single message. I'm a bit envious in a way because it's easier to communicate. To communicate all the benefits of organic in one single message is not possible," Cottle said.

However, Cottle argued that, through its planned marketing campaign, the UK organic sector can get across some of those benefits to convince the wider British public that their wares are, as she put it,"accessible" to everyone.

The UK organic industry has to throw its support behind those plans. Otherwise, the sector, with all its advocates, with all its "heavyweight" consumers, as The Soil Association calls them, will struggle to break out into the mainstream - and remain at the mercy of economic cycles.


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