Good news for the organic produce industry following a Soil Association report which showed organic sales as being up for the fifth year in a row.

According to the report, which was released this week, there has been a 7.1 per cent growth of organic food and drink in the UK in 2016,1 in contrast to non-organic sales, which have fallen by 0.6 per cent.  

According to the report, UK sales are also catching up with market growth rates around the world. Currently, the global organic food market is valued at US$81billion with the UK representing around four per cent of global sales.

The rise in sales has occurred despite the ongoing debate over the value of organic vs non-organic food.  Despite several recent studies adding support in favour of organic foods, not everyone is convinced.

A 2016 review published in the British Journal of Nutrition reported that organic cows’ milk has a more desirable fatty acid composition than conventional milk, including 50 per cent more omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) – although lower levels of selenium and iodine were observed.2. And a 2014 review published in the same journal reported a higher concentration of antioxidant polyphenols in organic crops/crop-based foods as well as lower levels of pesticide residues.3 Other studies, however, have failed to show any health benefits in consuming organic over non-organic.

Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey, said: Being an iodine researcher, the lower levels in organic milk concern me; people choose it thinking it is a healthier product but are unaware of the lower iodine content”.  Responding in the British Journal of Nutrition to the findings of the 2016 review, Professor Rayman and her colleague prepared a commentary which questioned the emphasis placed on the n-3 PUFA both in the paper and in the press release that followed. They argued that milk is a relatively inconsequential source of fatty acids, particularly of those desirable long-chain n-3 PUFA; whereas it is the single biggest contributor to iodine intake. “The lower iodine message must not be lost when promoting organic milk, and consumers need to be directed to alternative dietary sources…” they said.

However, there are other reasons why some people choose to buy organic, such as concerns about the effects of conventional farming methods on animal welfare and the environment.

Clare McDermott, Business Development Director at Soil Association Certification said: “It’s a positive time for organic as it ticks lots of boxes for consumers. Organic is extremely relevant for trends towards eating better food, knowing where your food comes from, avoiding pesticides or antibiotics and ‘free from’ diets. Increasingly, we’re seeing consumers choose organic as a shortcut to a healthy lifestyle and this will continue. Despite uncertainty around Brexit for us all, it brings lots of opportunities too – particularly for export for British organic and more product innovation.”

Key trends identified in the report include:

  • Supermarket sales of organic have grown by 6.1 per cent
  • Independent retailers increased sales of organic by 6.3 per cent
  • Sales of organic products through home delivery have grown by 10.5 per cent
  • Sales of organic into the foodservice market have grown by 19.1 per cent
  • The organic beauty and wellbeing sector grew by 13 per cent to be worth £61.2 million
  • Soil Association textile licensees increased organic sales by 30 per cent to £28 million


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  2. Średnicka-Tober D et al (2016). Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta-and redundancy analyses. British J Nutr, 115(06), 1043-1060.
  3. Barański M et al (2014). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. British J Nutr, 112(05), 794-811.
  4. Bath SC & Rayman M (2016). Trace element concentration in organic and conventional milk–what are the nutritional implications of the recently-reported differences? British J Nutr, 116(01), 3-6.