Soil Association: ‘Organic for all’ Conference 2023
Updated: Nov 10
I attended the Soil Association ‘Organic for All’ conference last week. It was particularly relevant as England Marketing, the market research agency I am a co-director of, are currently undertaking a piece of consumer research on behalf of Defra to evaluate the consumer demand for British and organic produce with a view to better understanding the opportunities for this type of produce in the UK market. I was also lucky enough to be travelling down with Kelly Shields from the Fresh Produce Consortium, so managed to get an industry eye perspective via her on some of the goals and ambitions that the Soil Association is putting forwards.
What inspired me
The resilience of the organic sector – it’s been a tough year for food, and growers in particular, but it was inspiring to speak to farmers and retailers alike who, although the organic sector has had it harder than the conventional market, have such a belief and confidence in what they are doing that they are able to show remarkable resilience to weather the storm. It hasn’t been without its losses, but I felt there was a real change in both the pace and drive to get more people understanding the benefits of organic through education and behavioural change.
I felt I learned a lot at the conference and the speaker line-up was balanced and informative. The structure was really well put together and the storytelling element was fantastic – it touched on climate, policy and case studies.
Where I would like further discussion
As a researcher, I felt compelled to dig a little deeper. I have concerns that the scope of ‘Organic for All’ has only scratched the surface on what must be done to deliver on the objectives, and I’ve included my thoughts on the elements where I would like to see more discussion and more being done below.
Support for organic producers - if organic is to become more mainstream and not just available to those who can afford it or who are willing the make sacrifices elsewhere to purchase it, then there needs to be a better understanding of the onboarding of new growers, available support for current growers, and guarantees that this support will remain beyond election years. I feel that there is a better balance to be struck between the focus on consumers and the focus on farming. Knowing the support for British farming and the support for sustainable food production, there is a real opportunity to bring consumers and farmers closer that presents an opportunity for organic that isn’t currently being leveraged.
Strategies for developing the value proposition – production costs for organic will be higher than conventional production. Therefore, there needs to be more done to help consumers to understand the value proposition and support organisations to understand the barriers that consumers face to making organic purchases. I am interested to watch how this will develop at an industry level rather than within individual brands.
Growing an audience – paying more for better quality is a tough message to land during a cost-of-living crisis and organic for all will only truly be achieved if you can convert consumers from conventional to organic produce. It may not be about availability or cost to the consumer, they may simply just not believe in the benefits to themselves or the environment and communicating that will be a tougher engagement piece. As we heard from the Dutch example, once people are on the escalator of organic, we tend to see them increase their spend on organic – getting them taking the first step is the challenge and I didn’t see any strategies or tactics to achieve that outlined at this stage.
I am hopeful that our research into the markets will support this drive to make organic produce an everyday option rather than a luxury lifestyle choice. I have the benefit of being able to see both ends, from the work we do at the consumer level to the struggles that growers encounter in moving to an organic way of farming, as England Marketing researches the entire supply chain for food production. I have also been fortunate in being close to the process of conversion from a conventional farm to an organic farm as my brother navigates the move to organic…cue lots of conversations this week on the opportunities in organic farming and if they play out on the ground (excuse the pun!)
If anyone wants to catch up on organic or British produce research, please get in touch.
The full conference is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHBEG4d5Mwo