Consumer research carried out by Tesco, the UK’s leading food retailer, has led to predictions that sales of organic food will quadruple by 2005, soaring to a value of £1bn and prompting a renewed drive to cater for this once elitist market sector.

According to Tesco, about a quarter of its customers now buy some organic food every week, largely due to concerns over child health. Their enthusiasm for natural products is being lapped up by the supermarket retailer, which has repackaged its now augmented organic line and promises to ensure that every store carries an organic range. The company is even sponsoring a Professor of Organic Ecology at Newcastle University.

With close to 70% of organic produce sold on the UK market originating abroad, Tesco is also providing funds for the home-grown organic movement, completing a deal with the Prince of Wales’ company Duchy Originals to stock more organic bread and biscuits. It is also spending £5m on a drive to lower the price of organic food, which costs more to produce.

Frozen food retailer Iceland has been selling organic produce since last June, investing £8m in the popular range. It has pledged that by next month items produced without chemicals will cost no more than their non-organic equivalents.

Asda currently provides the best deals on organic produce, some items costing 10-15% less than competitors. Sainsbury meanwhile insists that consumers will just have to pay more if they wish to chose from its organic range, presently the largest within the supermarket retailers. It denies this is due to profiteering, however.

Hot on the heels of food scares and concerns over GM foods, the organic sector is growing at 40% pa, and with the continued investment of food retailers this once specialist market is sure to keep growing.