Organic sales slump, but brands continue to invest

The need for a multi-mullion pound marketing campaign for organic food is more prevalent than ever given the latest sales figures from the Soil Association.

Yeo valley

Sales of organic products slumped by almost 13% in 2009, according to the Soil Association’s Organic Market Report.

After hitting the £2bn mark in 2008, last year sales fell to £1.84bn as shoppers turned theirs backs on more expensive organic food and retailers reduced shelf space for the products.

Vegetables were among the worst hit, with sales falling 22.7%. Dairy and fruit also fell 6.5% and14.8% respectively.

However, the Soil Association is optimistic for growth to return this year on the back of an industry-wide marketing push.

The Organic Trade Board has been set up to ’advance the reach and influence of the organic industry and build on its success’ under the umbrella of Organic UK.

The first milestone is to double the value of the market for organic products in the UK by 2013 – and “to provide a robust voice to make ourselves heard in a world where organic is still in the minority”.

The OTB says it is well aware of the ’crucial time’ ahead for organic food and drink, which is why it’s currently raising funds for a far-reaching marketing campaign to promote the ’organic brand’.

The plan is to drive a 15% increase in sales every year for the first three years. The initial target was to raise £250,000 for the campaign, though that has already been surpassed. The target has now been raised to £300,000; with match-funding from Europe, this would guarantee a campaign of almost £2m over the three years.

Press advertising, PR and digital marketing will all be used to “rekindle consumer demand”. The main target will be women aged 25 to 54 – they are the big spenders in organics.

Over 50 different companies and organisations have contributed to the campaign’s fund, including Waitrose, Green & Black’s and Yeo Valley.

According to the Soil Association’s report – the most comprehensive study of the market – Yeo Valley was one of the brands that kept marketing spend up in spite of the sales downturn. The company relaunched its children’s yoghurts under the name Little Yeo’s, with price promotions and advertising in supermarket magazines.

The organic sector has been battered by both the recession and the Government’s food advisors in chief (the Food Standard’s Agency) having concluding that organic isn’t actually healthier.

However, according to a Marketing Week online poll in August, the majority of consumers still believe organic food is healthier than non-organic. Almost 70% of respondents answered “yes” when asked if they still believed organic food was healthier than non-organic food.

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