Organic food and drink sales in the UK rose by 6.6% last year to £2.2 billion as result of the growth of independent outlets, home delivery and enhanced sales in supermarkets.

Information published by the Soil Association indicates that around one third of all organic sales are occurring either online or on the high street.

The trade body’s business development director Clare McDermott said: “One of the biggest stories for organic over the past couple of years has been the rise of online shopping, and it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing down.”

The Soil Association is responsible for licensing organic products and promoting organic farming.

Since the recession in 2008-9, sales of organic foods have continued to grow for the last six years; most recently up from £2.09 billion in 2016.

McDermott suggested that consumers value trust, traceability and transparency in the organic products market, which impacts on their purchasing choices.

“Organic delivers on those values and is also increasingly seen as the healthy and ethical choice thanks to mounting evidence of the difference between organic and non-organic, both in terms of nutrition and environmental impact,” said McDermott. “This stamp of assurance will only become more important as understanding of organic increases and we look toward the formation of new trade deals post-Brexit.”

In supermarkets, organic product sales enjoyed a 4.2% rise to £1.5 billion. Independent outlets selling organic products such as Whole Foods and Planet Organic saw sales rise by a considerable 9.7% to £359 million. Home delivery schemes also rose by 9.5% to £286 million.

Consumer demand for organic foods is increasing sales in catering and restaurant sectors, which experiences and rise of 10.2% to £84.4 million in 2017.

The boost to organic sales does not just cover food categories. Sales of organic beauty products have risen by 24% and textiles by 25%.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) stated that the food and drink sector is now worth £112 billion, to which the organic food and drink sector only makes a small contribution. However, the 6.6% average increase in organic sales in 2017 compares favourably to the non-organic sector, which only grew by 2% over the same timeframe.

Explaining the rise in organic food sales

“Availability is one of the key reasons for an increase in organic sales,” McDermott told Food Processing Technology.  Shoppers are also – as our research shows – seeing health as the number one priority when choosing food and see organic as a clear signpost to a healthy choice.”

“Organic is becoming more mainstream, and 82% of Brits put at least one organic item in their shopping basket last year,” McDermott added. “We estimate that online shopping could even make up a quarter of all UK sales of organic products in the next five years.”

McDermott concluded that more people are beginning to understand how food should be free range and GM-free, with no artificial colours or preservatives.

In a survey of 10 people aged 55 years, the Soil Association found six key trends that are shaping consumer’s eating choices. These are: Healthiness, taste, availability, pleasure, value, and making a statement. Data released by Nielsen Scantrack showed that dairy has the highest penetration of organic produce, with 28.7% of products certified organic. Fresh fruits and vegetables were found to be 24% certified organic and 10.2% for meat, fish and poultry; all three categories have enjoyed consecutive annual growth.