Sales of organic food rise as shoppers continue their lockdown habits

Organic food - Kentaroo Tryman/Getty Images
Organic food – Kentaroo Tryman/Getty Images

Sales of organic food are on the rise and it could all be thanks to lockdown, according to new figures from the Soil Association. Data collected by Nielsen on behalf of the Association (which launched its Organic September campaign this week), indicates that since January 2020 sales of organic food have seen their highest growth since 2016.

In the 12 months leading up to May 2020, sales grew by 6.1 per cent year on year, compared to a 3.2 per cent growth for non-organic food. During lockdown itself, there was an 18.7 per cent increase in organic sales, as consumers altered their shopping habits.

“We weren’t getting the usual supermarket slots, so we ended up getting more of our groceries from the local grocers and butchers,” says Jade Duffin, a mother of two who lives just outside Horsforth in West Yorkshire. Her family gradually turned to a more organic-based diet while in lockdown. Duffin, who describes hers as a low-to-middle income household, found that savings made elsewhere allowed for the change. With gym memberships and kids’ clubs cancelled, she says, “it was nice to upgrade the food shop.”

Having farm shops nearby was a boon. “The increase in quality was immediately noticeable.” she says. “The meat seemed a bit darker and richer, and you could tell the vegetables were from the best crops.”

A recent YouGov poll found that as a result of lockdown, 42 per cent of people feel the crisis has made them value food more. Duffin is one of them. “Because we weren’t able to go out restaurants, it was nice to get a really good organic  chicken, or organic veg box.” 

According to the Organic Trade Board, over 12 million people in Britain are more likely to buy organic than they were before the pandemic, with 67 per cent saying they would consider swapping a regular grocery item with an organic alternative. The Soil Association found that foods with the largest growth in sales include beef and eggs (both with an increase of around 15 per cent year on year), and sparkling wine which has grown 47 per cent. 

In order to receive organic certification, arable farms must not use weedkillers or most pesticides (a few naturally-derived pesticides such as citronella are able to be used as a last resort in specific circumstances.) Artificial fertilisers are also banned. 

For cattle and poultry farming, routine antibiotics cannot be used and animals must be kept in conditions with high welfare including plenty of space and fresh air, raised in conditions that suit their natural behaviour, and more outdoor access. Other things which cannot be labelled organic include animals fed genetically modified produce, and most artificial colourings, flavourings, or preservatives.

For Dom O’Neill, based in central Scotland, an interest in organic food during lockdown inspired him to adopt chickens and start growing his own produce in an old 2002 Vauxhall Corsa which he converted into a greenhouse. “We had the time to change our habits and to look at what we ate and the quality of it,” he says. So far, O’Neill has grown tomatoes, chillies, potatoes and radishes, along with red and white onions, and cabbages. The impact has been felt not only by O’Neill but also by his young daughter, whom he feels has grown more excited about the food on her plate. 

Vauxhall Corsa greenhouse - Dom O'Neill
Vauxhall Corsa greenhouse – Dom O’Neill

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he says. “Next year I’m going to do a lot more of it. We’ll still rely on the supermarkets but I can grow enough organic stuff to supplement our diet.”

Despite lockdown ending, Duffin, too has no plans to return to her former shopping lists. “Although the kids are going back to school, we won’t be going to the cinema, or the gym, so we should be able to afford it. Besides, I don’t mind spending a few pounds extra per week when the quality is so much better,” she says.

“We’ve been getting things with less wrapping and less packaging, have been exploring the local area, supporting local businesses and talking to locals. It has just boosted our wellbeing overall.”