The UK market for organic food and drink rose by 22% to more than GBP2bn (US$4.03bn) in 2006, according to a new report published by the UK organic campaign group The Soil Association.

The Soil Association’s annual Organic Market Report showed continued strong growth in sales and public support for organic food, drink, textiles and health and beauty products.

In particular, sales of organic products through organic box and mail order schemes and other direct routes rose by 53% from GBP95m in 2005 to GBP146m in 2006, more than double the rate of growth in supermarkets.

Sales of free-range and organic eggs are outstripping sales of eggs from caged birds for the first time, the report stated. An average of GBP37m is spent each week on organic produce in the UK with consumers in London, the Southeast, the Southwest and Wales most likely to buy organic food, according to the report.

The report also included consumer research by Mintel which shows that more than half of those surveyed had purchased organic fruit and vegetables within the previous 12 months; one in four consumers had bought organic meat or dairy products; and one in six had purchased packaged organic goods.

Helen Browning, director of food and farming at The Soil Association, described the strong year-on-year growth as “extremely encouraging”, adding that it signified the organic movement had gone “well beyond a mere fad or niche”.

“The staggering 53% growth in sales through box schemes and other direct routes confirms strong public support for local, seasonal and organic food that provides a fair return to farmers and growers, boosts the local economy, and also reduces your carbon footprint,” Browning said. “Consumers are increasingly linking everyday food choice to environmental action.”