An organic kind of renaissance

After dodging the worst effects of the recession, the organic sector found itself losing some ground in recent years but the good news is it’s on its way back to its 2010 heyday, writes Ray Ryan

THE market for organic produce in Ireland in some ways escaped the worst effects of the recession.

And according to latest research, there has also been a welcome return to growth in the retail value of organic food in Ireland for the first time since its high point in the otherwise doom-laden 2010.

The Bord Bia study, funded by the Department Agriculture, Food and the Marine and carried out by Ipsos MRBI, valued annual retail sales at almost €100m.

That’s up from €97m last year, but it is still below the record €106m recorded in 2010.

There are currently 1,721 registered organic operators in Ireland and more than 52,000 hectares of land are being used to produce organic food.

Meanwhile, the sector features largely in the Government’s €4bn draft Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.

Minister Simon Coveney, who outlined the main provisions of the overall draft plan earlier this month, said it proposes a significantly increased budget of €44m for theOrganic Farming Scheme.

Bord Bia’s survey found that the typical organic shopper is a female urban-dweller in the wealthier ABC social class.

Most consumers who buy organic said they do so to avoid chemicals and pesticides, and because organic food is perceived as being healthier for the body. Other motivations cited by consumers include benefits for nature and the environment and a better taste.

The survey found that 60% of Irish shoppers had bought organic food in the last six months.

Some 73% of consumers said that they would buy a ‘local organic’ product rather than something that is simply organic.

While organic products are more likely to be used regularly, 66% of shoppers said that they would be more likely to purchase organic for a special occasion such as a romantic meal at home or when giving food as a gift. The top three factors that would encourage Irish people to spend more on organic produce were a price decrease, an increase in the range available, and an increase in the volume and variety of organic food produced in Ireland.

Greater availability in stores and a wider range of products, combined with issues surrounding non-organic products were all seen as factors in the return to growth.

“It will be important for organic producers to emphasise the positive reasons for buying organic, particularly among those who are more occasional buyers.”

The report notes that: “Currently, consumers are not clear on who is responsible for ensuring that organic products genuinely conform to the principles of organic farming.

“Shoppers mainly rely on the word ‘organic’ for reassurance that they are buying authentic organically-produced food and drinks.

“The presence of the EU leaf logo in a more prominent manner would also help in this regard,” it stated.

The report noted that the shopping for organic in the main is not a planned event.

It is typically more occasion-driven (treat-inspired) or opportunistic based on what is available and visible in a store.

“Due to the fragmented spread of organic products, shoppers report some levels of difficulty in locating the products they are looking for in the retail environment.

“Therefore, stand-out and packaging is critical to driving purchase in store,” the report stated. It also noted that buying Irish is an important consideration for shoppers, as is buying local, to a lesser extent.

However, buyers of organic food and drink recognise that it is not always possible to buy Irish organic.

While the positioning of “local organic” is appealing to current buyers, imported organic products are not a deterrent to purchase.

Teagasc notes in its Organic Farming Newsletter for July that some of the most profitable farmers in the country are farming organically.

High output levels, lower production costs and premium market prices contribute to higher margins. In many cases the Organic Farming Scheme payments are an added bonus.

Irish organic food enjoys an excellent reputation both at home and especially across Europe, where demand for Irish organic beef is on the rise.

There are shortages in the domestic market especially in grain, milk, fruit and vegetables.

Teagasc, along with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and organic organisations, has meanwhile started a series of 12 open days on organic farms countrywide.

The next in the series, which continues until next March, will be at Robinstown House, Glenmore, Co Kilkenny, on Thursday next (July 31).


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