If you’ve ever found yourself wandering the supermarket aisles on a sunny, uncharacteristically warm British summer day only to find that your barbecue burger of choice isn’t on the shelves, you’ll immediately have an understanding of one of the biggest problems facing UK shoppers looking for organic products.
Organic: treading lightly
Research has helped to demonstrate the diverse range of benefits that organic offers. Organic farming works with nature to minimise environmental impacts, and farmers use natural methods like crop rotation to improve soil quality. Plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms. Organic farming prohibits the use of genetically modified crops and uses fewer pesticides – and no system of farming has higher standards of animal welfare. Organic animals are naturally free range, reared without the routine use of antibiotics.
New research has found that organic is also nutritionally different. In 2016, in the biggest study of its kind, researchers found that organic meat and dairy contained more omega-3 fatty acids and slightly higher concentrations of iron, Vitamin E and some carotenoids. In 2014 the same researchers identified that organic fruit and vegetable crops were higher in antioxidants and contained lower concentrations of pesticides than their non-organic counterparts.
Barriers to choosing organic
Despite what we know about the benefits of organic farming, a major barrier to choosing organic is that of perceived value. Simply put, organic tends to be more expensive. As The Colour of Money previously reported, the 2008 banking crisis was a challenging time for the organic sector, with supermarkets taking organic off shelves in anticipation of customers tightening belts. But while non-organic food can cost less at the till, the price on the supermarket shelf doesn’t reflect the social and environmental costs involved in its production. By taking a measure of not just price but also social and environmental impacts, organic food has been found to be less expensive than it appears.
While the dilemma faced by an enthusiastic summer barbecuer tends to be remedied after the supermarket’s next delivery, the same isn’t true for the organic sector: limited availability of organic vegetables, fruits and meat has been cited by the Organic Trade Board as one of the biggest barriers to encouraging people to choose organic.
Sales of organic food and drink have recovered, surpassing their pre-recession high to reach £2.2 billion earlier this year, but organic still makes up just a 1.5% share of the total UK market. Compare this with Denmark’s 9% or Germany’s 5% share, and there is considerable room for improvement.
Besides, the aisle of a busy supermarket is not an ideal classroom in which to learn that choosing an organic pineapple might help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Building true awareness around the benefits of organic requires connection and communication, and will not happen overnight.
Helping the UK Wake Up to Organic
One campaign building awareness is Wake Up to Organic, the Organic Trade Board’s annual celebration bringing organic to new audiences through independent retailers. While representing a smaller share of the organic market, independents have helped fill the availability gap left by supermarkets and link the local community with the organic community.
This Wednesday 13 June, independent retailers, cafes and farm shops from Penzance to Inverness will celebrate Wake Up to Organic by dishing up free organic mini-breakfasts to commuters, shoppers, and locals, demonstrating that organic can be the easy and accessible option.
Simon Crichton, Food Farming and Trade team manager at Triodos Bank, sees huge value in these events. “Organic food and farming is a core value for Triodos Bank, and we are really looking forward to supporting Wake Up to Organic this year” says Crichton. “Tasty breakfasts of muesli, fresh fruit and yogurt are a great way to introduce people to organic for the first time – and will give them a great start to their day.”
While enjoying their mini-meals, people visiting select shops will have the opportunity to talk to organic producers to learn what organic is all about, join in on cookery demonstrations and receive top tips about switching to organic. Meanwhile, shops will have the opportunity to showcase their range of organic products.
Last year the campaign served up over 10,000 mini-breakfasts, giving people the opportunity to taste organic for the most important meal of the day. In London, commuters talked about organic farming over lattes; in Liverpool, the local community came together for a networking breakfast of smoothies. In Bristol, commuters discovered Better Food’s new Wapping Wharf branch over eggs and avocado on toast.
This year proves to be even bigger, with 280 shops taking part. Whichever corner of Britain you live in, getting involved is as easy as finding your local shop and dropping in on Wednesday morning to taste the best of organic.