September is celebrated as “national organic month”, the time of year when all things organic are put in the spotlight. So were you part of it? If yes, how? What did you do? If you did nothing, and let this event pass you by, you may want to read on, as organic food is on the up.
This year, the hashtag #organicseptember was used over 34,000 times, reaching almost 30 million people. And, according to Nielsen data, 2016 is set to be one of the biggest years for organic products sold in the UK, as the organic market is predicted to exceed £2 billion this year.
What are the latest trends?
As Pelican Procurement is a member of the Soil Association’s ‘Catering Mark Supplier Scheme’, I was invited to attend the Soil Association’s annual Trade Briefing that covered the latest news on the organic market. (The Soil Association was formed in 1946 to champion organic principles and practice, to secure the health and vitality of people, farm animals and nature.)
The room was heaving with over 150 food producers, manufacturers and both large and independent retailers, all eager to learn about the latest trends and ensure they don’t miss out on their share of the growing organic market.
So what’s the news? Consumers are demanding more organic food. That’s fact. Market research by Nielsen revealed that organic sales are up 5.56% since August last year, with 83% of households reporting to have purchased organic products that year.
Whilst Nielsen’s figures focused mainly on retail, it is expected that the trends will be mirrored in the food service sector. One of Pelican’s procurement analysts, Rijan Rai, concurs. As Pelican Procurement Service manages purchasing spend of £150m on behalf of clients from education, hospitality and the care-home sector, we are able to analyse the sales data to identify changes in buying patterns. Rijan says “There has been gradual increase in sales of organic lines year on year with the most noticeable increment in the last couple of years, where purchases of organic products rose to 5.28% (from 2.65% in 2014). The most popular product lines are still chocolate and snacks followed by bread, pasta and dairy.”
The interest in natural and organic products goes beyond the niche of health shops on the high street, as people want organic food to be the norm and part of their everyday diet
Over the last year, I have certainly seen the words organic, fresh, and local being used much more frequently on menus – and this includes school menus. Earlier this year, I was consulting at one independent school in London, where the catering manager was asked by parents and teachers to include more organic food at lunchtimes.
These requests are to be expected from ‘Generation Jamie’, i.e. the under 35s, who are the most engaged organic consumer demographic in the latest research undertaken by leading independent research company, HPI. HPI’s Daniel Lewis said: “We’ve been conducting research into the organic consumer since 2011, and this year it has become clearer than ever that younger consumers, those under 35, are now the most active and engaged. 78% of Millennials say that organic is important, compared to 49% of their parents. So the sector really has to capitalize on the high level of interest from younger consumers.”
This is exactly what Organic Denmark did. Organic Denmark is the largest representative of the organic food industry in Denmark. By working closely with retailers, brands, consumers and government, they moved the organic market share from a very respectable 2.9% to a world-leading 7.6% in 2014, doubling sales over the last five years. The Danish government is aiming for 60% of catering in the public sector to be organic before 2020.
So what are the reasons for buying organic?
Generally, the underlying reasons behind buying organic food are increasing interest in health, wellness, provenance and sustainability and some motives include:
- To avoid pesticides. It is worth noting that organic does not mean 100% pesticide free; however there is limited evidence that organic foods contain lower levels of pesticides, compared to conventionally produced food.
- To ensure better animal welfare, support more wildlife and cultivate healthier soil.
- Organic food is free of GM.
While there are many buying influencers for organic, a ‘trinity’ of three key virtues for consumers comprises ‘tastes fantastic’, ‘healthier for you’ and ‘is worth it’
It’s tastier and more nutritious. Some believe that organic food is more nutritious, but unfortunately this is still debatable. Whilst there have been some studies showing that organic produce contains more nutrients, such as vitamin C, phosphorous and phytonutrients, the same studies also show that levels of other nutrients, such as nitrogen and protein, are actually lower. So what I’m saying is that soil quality, growing conditions, harvesting methods and timings will all have an impact on nutritional content This makes it difficult to know if the differences are due to organic versus conventional. Read further expert information here.
The interest in natural and organic products goes beyond the niche of health shops on the high street, as people want organic food to be the norm and part of their everyday diet. Their expectation is that organic and natural food will be offered in cafes, restaurants, hotels, colleges, universities, hospitals and even in convenience shops; simply available when they are out and about. In addition, Millennials’ hashtagging and tweeting habits mean that the demand for good quality, eco-friendly food is likely to continue being met under the organic banner.
It is not surprising, therefore, that over 134 food service organisations and businesses have signed up to the Food for Life Catering Mark Award from the Soil Association, as a commitment to take their sourcing standards to the next level.
As part of the criteria to achieve the Silver Award, 5% of the total food spend must be on organic, or 10% if the organisation aims to achieve the Gold Award.
Whatever the reasons for going organic, it comes down to personal preference so keeping abreast of what your customers want is what’s important here. Is it time to consider whether organic should be on your menu? The findings from HPI research show that, while there are many buying influencers for organic, a ‘trinity’ of three key virtues for consumers comprises ‘tastes fantastic’, ‘healthier for you’ and ‘is worth it’.
To find out more about the Catering Mark, and how Pelican can help your business with procuring organic, fairtrade and healthier food, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna-Maria Holt is Company Dietician at Pelican Procurement Services