The UK market for organic foods has increased by 30% on last year to total almost GBP1.6bn (US$2.95bn) in sales – averaging an extra GBP7m a week, according to figures out from the Soil Association released today (7 July).  The figure compares to the current annual growth for all UK food and drink sales of around 3%.

The numbers and range of people buying organic food have also risen, with two out of three consumers now knowingly buying organic food (65.4%) and over half of people in the most disadvantaged social groups (C2, D and E) now buying organic food and drink.

Helen Browning, Food & Farming director of the Soil Association said: “These are staggering growth figures and clearly good news for UK organic producers. It is also greatly encouraging to see supermarkets responding to criticisms by increasing their sourcing of home-grown produce. But whilst the Soil Association has seen a 42% surge in the number of farmers interested in converting to organic systems, it is of concern that overall UK supply is falling behind demand. If public support for organic produce isn’t matched by supply – supermarkets and others will again be forced to look overseas. In turn, retailers can help build processor and producer confidence by prioritising long-term trading relationships with processors and farmers that recognise the costs and extra demands of organic husbandry.”

Browning went on to sound a warning, however: “A word of caution, however – booming markets inevitably attract those putting profits before principles. We’ve seen that happen in the US, where organic standards have been diluted. The Soil Association and other organic bodies must be vigilant to ensure public trust in the integrity and values of organic food and farming is sustained.”

Supermarkets took the lion’s share of sales of organic produce making up GBP1.2bn of the GBP1.6bn total sales – a 31% increase on last year. Supermarkets are now sourcing 66% of organic primary produce from the UK – a 13% increase since 2004.

Despite this dominance, sales through independent shops, farm shops, farmers’ markets and box schemes also increased by 32% since 2004. Consumer research carried out in early 2006 showed that 52% of organic consumers would prefer to shop at smaller, local suppliers.

The global market for organic food and drink totalled GBP16.7bn in 2005, an increase of GBP1.2bn. After North America, Europe has the largest market for organic food and drink in the world. Within Europe, the UK has the third biggest market after Germany and Italy.