Friday, 30 October 2009

Organic farmers fight the recession

By Sunil Patel
A number of prominent organic food producers in the Midlands have been leading the industry fight back against an annual national sales decline.

A staunchly loyal customer base, better taste, awareness of the impact on the environment and lessening food miles have been some of the factors behind the resurgence for some organic farmers and producers.
Sales of organic food sold through farmers market shot up by almost 19 per cent to £23.7 million last year, a sign of steady growth throughout the industry.

Lesley Cutts from Goodness Direct, Daventry, feels that consumers are moving away from supermarkets to shop organic with specialist retailers, she said, “Our growth as a business has been pretty constant and it would have been much greater if wasn’t for the credit crunch.”

According to a survey carried out by the Soil Association, thirty-six per cent of these committed organic consumers say they expect to spend more on organic food in 2009, and only 15% expect to spend less.

Figures also show sales of organic milk, cheese, some meat and poultry were also up last year.

Lesley disputed the findings of a recent report which argued that organic food offered no nutritional benefits to people compared with non-organic, she said, “It is proven that organic milk contains higher levels of omega 3 than non-organic milk.

“Also, all of the vegetable boxes we produce are extremely price competitive and benefit from being eco-friendly, pesticide free and from a careful husbandry of the land.”

Jit Parekh is from Riverford Organic, Leicester, which has 500 acres organic of  farmland 32 miles from Leicester city centre.

He said, “People are still ordering in our vegetable boxes because I guess they see the benefits in taste and can appreciate the fact their food hasn’t travelled thousands of miles.

Rising fuel prices have affected the cost of food production which means the price gap between organic and non-organic has become smaller.

In some areas, there is no difference where people buy directly from the producer and according to the Soil Association, there are good prospects for the long-term growth of the organic food market.

Mr Parekh said, “I’d say that we’re cheaper than some supermarkets because we try to grow within the season to keep costs as low as possible.

“Also, we grow to pick and deliver directly to the consumer so we cut out the expense of the middleman and we’ve increased our value range boxes so that in order to attract more customers.”

An East Midlands farmer who did not want to be named and supplies organic meat to three local county councils said, “At the start of the credit crunch the assumption was that everyone was taking a thrashing but that hasn’t been the case.

The organic farmer who has been producing beef and lamb for the last 10 years has experienced consistent sales in the last three years selling all their stock.

He added, “I think the perception that organic food is bought exclusively by the middle class is wrong.

“People who buy the food are making a lifestyle choose which includes having high welfare standards for livestock production and consuming food which doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment.”

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