UK organic sales outpace conventional as shoppers join the dots on organic and sustainability 

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Sales of organic goods in the UK saw growth of 6.5% during the 52 weeks ending 25 September 2021, according to new data from Nielsen RMS announced at last week’s Soil Association Certification Trade Conference. 

That’s a slight slowing of the growth seen last year at the peak of the pandemic (+12.6%), but it compares very well with figures for conventional food, which grew at under 2% over the same period. 

Soil Association Certification welcomed the latest round of sales growth, commenting that “the positive story on organic continues”. And it said there was growing evidence that consumers were now “joining the dots” on organic and sustainability.  

This was a theme explored in a presentation by Gael Laurie from market research specialist The Crow Flies. Its research shows that 71% of shoppers say they are more concerned about the environment, while 86% strongly agree or agree with the view ‘I want to make more sustainable choices in the products I buy’. 

Two very clear drivers
Laurie said there were now two very clear drivers of why people choose organic – health and environment. These, she said, created an overlap when it came to concerns over pesticides and chemicals, which amplified their combined importance. Other motivations to choose organic included animal welfare and health and life-stage ‘triggers’. 

Looking at barriers to entry, price continue to dominate. 80% agree that organic products are ‘consistently more expensive than the non-organic equivalent’ (although, encouragingly, 78% agree that ‘for some products it’s only a small difference and worth it)’. Other barriers include limited availability and lack of variety in organic choices. 

Laurie insisted that the price issue could be addressed without undermining organic values by the use of targeted promotions and loyalty schemes. Price promotions, increased variety and more information and POS ‘stand out’, would all help to keep organic front of mind. “Remember,” she said, “most people are on auto-pilot when they are shopping, they’re not really thinking about values”. It was important therefore to provide prompts and reminders at the crucial point of purchasing decision. 

Earlier, Mike Watkins, from NielsenIQ, highlighted opportunities for further growth for the organic sector. Nielsen data show that shoppers continue to be willing to spend more on organic. Watkins showed that shopper demand for organic is increasing for every day items, singling out tea, where £1 in £10 is is now spent on organic. 

Three big opportunities
 Nielsen research on key reasons for buying organic closely married with the findings from The Crow Flies, with ‘No pesticides’ and ‘Better for the environment’ topping its list. It showed that organic shoppers are more likely to act on personal perceptions of ‘healthier’ – with 54% more likely to be adopting a fully, or more, plant-based diet, and 58% are more likely to be a regular free-from buyer. 

Watkins ended with “three big opportunities” for organic food:

  • Online – which offers shoppers a wider assortment of organic 
  • Reducing the interpurchase cycle (also known as getting people to buy organic more often!)
  • Widening choice across categories to encourage bigger basket spend

• Natural Newsdesk will separately on presentations by Henry Dimbleby, Alrla UK and Milk & More. 

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