Supply problems 'still holding back organic food sales'

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Lack of availability continues to hamper the growth of the UK's organic food sector, but only 29% of the population say they have never bought organic food or drink, a report revealed today.

Lack of availability continues to hamper the growth of the UK's organic food sector, but only 29% of the population say they have never bought organic food or drink, a report revealed today.

The study by Mintel found that as food-related scares increase so does the popularity of the organic food market, with sales expected to grow by over 40% between 1998 and 1999 to reach £550 million in the UK.

Vegetables and fruit together account for almost 60% of value sales while the dairy sector has grown by 500% between 1994 and 1998.

While lack of home-grown produce limits availability, price remains the biggest deterrent to consumers, the survey found.

Those aged 15-24 were the least likely to purchase organic food and drink, with 40% saying they never buy organic compared to 20% of those aged between 45 and 54.

Nearly half of the 1,049 adults questioned said they would buy more organic products if they were cheaper, while just over a third felt organic products were far too expensive.

Research showed that the premium placed on organic goods compared to conventionally-sourced food and drink can range between 10% and 400%, making purchasing some items difficult for less affluent shoppers.

Some 20% also said they would buy more organic produce if it was available where they shop.

Asked if they were confident that food labelled organic actually was, people in Scotland and the South of England proved the most sceptical, with over a quarter believing that you can't be sure.

The Scots were also least likely to feel that organic products are safer than non-organic (18%), compared to over a quarter in the South of England.

Mintel senior market consultant James McCoy said the British organics market remained relatively underdeveloped compared to other European states, particularly Denmark and Sweden.

This partly reflects the lower level of support for farmers switching to organic systems, with current UK supplies coming mainly from imports, Mr McCoy said.

He added: "Despite rapid growth in the market during the past five years, high prices dictated by limited and relatively unsupported supply are deterring potential consumers, which may ultimately restrict further growth."

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