Britons' taste for organic food and drink shows no sign of letting up in the next few years, with sales forecast to soar to £2bn by the end of the decade.
Concerns about chemicals in food combined and a trend for ethical and local products have led to organic sales almost doubling in the past five years. A report on organics from Mintel today forecasts that the market will almost double again by 2010, from £1.2bn to more than £2bn. The Soil Association, the leading certification body for organic food producers, believes the growth is likely to be even stronger than Mintel's estimate of 72 per cent.
The market researchers analysed recent annual rises in organic food sales and future changes in disposable income and demographics. Among the biggest influences is the forecasted rise in middle-aged consumers, who are enthusiastic buyers of organic food. Between 2005 and 2009 the number of people aged between 45 and 54 is set to rise by 9 per cent while the 55 to 64 age group will rise by 6 per cent. Over the period, personal disposable income is expected to leap by around 40 per cent.
"If you look at the interest of consumers in ethical trading, locally sourced products and animal welfare you can see that they come together in organic food," said Julie Sloan, a Mintel consumer analyst. "The sky is the limit. There is huge growth potential."
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, predicted organic food was about to break through into the mainstream. He suggested that Mintel's estimate of 13 per cent a year annual growth - about £200m a year - was "conservative". The organic market was likely to rise by about 15 per cent a year to between £2.5bn and £3bn by 2010, he estimated.
Mr Holden said: "I think that growth in the market is so dynamic. Some supermarkets have experienced a 20 per cent growth over the past year and some of the box schemes have experienced growth of 20 per cent or more. My feeling is that organic and local food market is reaching a tipping point. There are millions and millions of citizens for whom local and organic food purchases have resonance."
The Soil Association's annual report this year showed that organic food is being bought by all social classes. About 70 per cent of people now buy organic food at least occasionally, although it only accounts for 1 per cent of food sales.
Mr Holden said: "There are very few people out there now who aren't worried about modern agriculture, climate change, food security, animal welfare, wildlife protection or the maintenance of public health. And those concerns are finding their expression in the market place."
Fruit and vegetables are the best-selling organic sectors but dairy and meat are expected to catch up in coming years. There are 4,000 organic farms in the UK, comprising 686,000 hectares - almost 4 per cent of total farmland. Britain is Europe's third-biggest market for organic food, after Germany and Italy.Reuse content