UK Organic market hits highest growth level in 15 years as sales nudge £3bn


UK organic sales rose 12.6% in 2020, the highest rate of growth seen in 15 years, according to the latest Organic Market Report which is published today. It means that the market is now worth £2.79 billion, and on track to reach £2.9 billion by the end of 2021.

Finn Cottle, trade consultant, Soil Association Certification, said: “The unprecedented crisis of 2020 has brought immense challenges across the entire food supply chain – not least for organic businesses. So, it’s significant that in times of crisis, people are turning to organic products for the assurance of transparency, integrity and quality they provide. Organic is now rightfully recognised as the cornerstone of a resilient food and farming system and a vital part of the solution to the climate, nature and health crises.

“With people spending more time at home preparing and planning meals, many shoppers are also appreciating the incredible range of organic options that are available online, with stand-out growth of 36.2% in this channel. With the organic market growing faster than ever and expected to reach £2.9 billion by the end of 2021, there is a huge opportunity for organic businesses to innovate and continue growing the market.”

Soil Association Certification’s UK Organic Market Report 2021 reveals:

  • Organic market year on year sales growth reached 12.6% in 2020, outperforming growth in the non-organic sector
  • The highest year on year growth rate in the organic market since 2005, with a 10th consecutive year of growth. The market is on target to reach £2.9B by end of 2021.
  • Total sales of organic hit £2.79 billion, meaning more than £50m per week was spent on organic in 2020, as shopping needs and habits changed dramatically due to the pandemic.
  • Online and home delivery sales fuelled much of the growth in the organic market in 2020, with sales increasing by 36.2%, meaning this channel to market accounts for almost 25% of the total sales (supermarket online sales are included)
  • Sales of organic items in supermarkets increased by 12.5% with many categories showing growth over 20%

While shopping trips became more planned and less frequent, consumers increased interest in good quality and healthy food helped to drive sales of organic. Soil Association Certification research (July 2020) found that people most associate ‘organic’ with safe and fully traceable food with less pesticides, and no genetically modified organisms.

Online powers onwards
The report reveals stand-out growth in organic via online and home delivery at +36.2%. With almost 1 in 4 organic products purchased online in 2020, the organic online and home delivery channel reached close to £500M, surpassing independent retailer sales for the first time.

Increased interest in online shopping and box schemes both for ease and choice during the pandemic has driven up customer numbers, orders and sales for many operators, substantially strengthening the success of this longstanding organic channel.

Online organic specialists like Ocado reported strong growth in 2020

Laura Henderson, head of buying fresh & frozen from Ocado said: “We saw a marked increase in the sale of our organic food and drink products at Ocado over the past year. Our new partnership with Marks and Spencer increased the number of organic products available, taking our total to more than 4,000. This is considerably more than other grocery retailers and we’re delighted to offer our customers such variety of choice – all with the effortless convenience of shopping online.”

Rob Haward, managing director of organic veg box company, Riverford, said: “Riverford was already experiencing strong growth early in 2020, before Covid, driven by a desire for more organic and plant-based eating. In the face of the surge in demand we experienced during the pandemic we reduced our range back to veg boxes to meet our customers’ needs and limit our sales to new customers. We are now building back up to a narrower more veg-focused range.

“Even with these measures in place our sales increased by more than 40% compared to the prior year, and sales are remaining at these high levels as the continuing restrictions on people’s lives drives strong demand for home delivery of fresh organic food.”

The organic market is now on track to reach £2.9 billion by the end of 2021, with many new organic shoppers expected to remain loyal to the sector as they look to support a food and farming system that supports a safe climate, better biodiversity and improved health.

The report also shows strong growth in organic supermarket sales at +12.5%*. Categories which experienced increased sales include: produce, which have grown by 15.5%*; canned and packaged items, which have grown by 19.8%*; meat, fish and poultry, which have grown by 16.8%*; chilled foods which have grown by 22.2%* and beers, wines and spirits, which have grown by 32.9%*.

Mixed fortunes for Indies 
Independent retailers faced mixed fortunes. Whereas several city centre stores closed, high street and community stores experienced huge increases, with citizens choosing to shop locally. Overall this amounted to a +0.9% rise in the organic market through independent retail. Foodservice took a hit due to closures in the private sector, with an overall decline of -23.2%, although sales of organic into public procurement continued at a stable level. 

Independents had more mixed fortunes as city centre stores lost footfall in lockdown

Growth in the organic market was also reported across beauty and wellbeing and textiles. Sales of Soil Association Certification-certified beauty and wellbeing products grew by 13%, to reach a total £120.2 million in 2020. Sales of Soil Association Certification-certified organic textiles grew by 9%, to be worth £49.5 million, despite a 20% decline in global fashion sales in 2020.

Soil Association Certification’s Organic Market Report 2021 is sponsored by Triodos, one of the world’s leading sustainable banks.