Australians’ appetite for organic surges during pandemic


Organic household penetration and annual spend in Australia both jumped in 2020, helping deliver strong market growth during the pandemic. But shopper confidence continues to be “undermined” by the absence in Australia of a mandatory domestic standard for organic. 

According to the recently released Australian Organic Market Report 2021, more than half (56%) of all Australian shoppers have purchased certified organic in the last year. Household penetration rose to 92% (from 88.8% in 2019), while average annual spend jumped to AUD 105.7 (up from 93.7 in 2019). 

Key findings:

  • 56% of Australian shoppers have purchased organic in the last year
  • 62% of shoppers cited personal health (‘chemical free’) as a motivator for their initial organic purchase
  • 38% growth in organic certified operators since 2011
  • 37% of regular organic shoppers increased the amount of organic food they purchased in the past year.

Niki Ford, chief executive officer at Australian Organic Limited (AOL), which  produced the report, said the dual health and wider environmental benefits of organic production was driving the sector’s growing consumer base.

Health tops ‘reasons to buy’ ranking 
“In Australia, consumers are continuing to prioritise personal and environmental health, and this has been brought to front of mind by recent climatic events and the global pandemic.

“Over the course of the past year we’ve seen around nine million Australian households purchase organic food during this incredibly challenging time.”

Ford said the organic industry had shown significant growth in the face of a turbulent year.   

“The Australian certified organic industry continues to expand and prosper despite the enormous challenges faced over the past two years. Through drought, bushfires, floods and most recently the pandemic, the industry is unwavering and continues to grow at an impressive rate.

“There are now 4,233 organic operations in Australia, displaying steady long-term growth of 38 per cent since 2011.”

Internationally, the United States continues to be the top international market for Australian organic products, representing 33 per cent of all exports in 2020, with 95 per cent of organic meat exports destined for the US.

But the report highlights a continuing challenge for Australia’s organic sector – namely, the confusion and trust issues that arise from absence the enforced domestic standard for the use of the word ‘organic’

Confidence undermined 
Compounding this issue is the fact that almost one third (31 per cent) of shoppers who purchased an organic product in the past year believe they have previously been misled by organic claims on product packaging, giving further urgency to the need for a mandatory domestic standard for organic.

“The current lack of a unified, legal organic definition undermines shopper confidence,” Ford said.

“While global markets, with standards in place, can be sure organic products they are purchasing from Australian businesses are certified organic, unfortunately Australian consumers cannot be assured the same confidence, creating confusion and causing consumer mistrust within the organic marketplace.

“The only way a consumer can be certain a product labelled ‘organic’ is what is says it is, is to look for a certification mark.”

Australia’s Organics Industry Advisory Group is assessing whether the current organic regulatory framework is fit for purpose, with a final report with key recommendations due to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud in June 2021.