SALES OF organic food have increased by over 10% in the last year, according to figures released by the Soil Association.

Retail sales of organic food are now worth £1.12bn and growing by £2m a week, the new figures reveal.

This means the rate of growth is twice the rate of the general grocery market.

According to the SA‘s Organic Food and Farming Report 2004 – the most comprehensive review of the organic sector – the proportion of organic food sold through the supermarkets has fallen by 1% for the second year running.

Increasingly, consumers are turning directly to farmers: Sales through box schemes, farmers‘ markets or farm shops have soared by 16% and are now worth £108m a year.

Scotland continues to have over half of all organic land in the UK, while the south-west of England is home to over a fifth of all organic farms and food companies.

The popularity of organic baby food continues to grow, with sales rising by nearly 6%, compared to a slight decline in the non-organic baby food market. Nearly half of all baby food sold is now organic.

Around 1m more organic chickens were sold last year, increasing sales by 30% to a total of 4.5m birds.

Although imports of organic food have declined over the last few years, the SA found that imports have remained static at 56% in 2003-04.

A fifth of the organic meat sold in the UK is imported, while potatoes, carrots, onions, apples and pears are still being imported by some leading retailers even when in season here, the SA has found.

This is despite a target set by the Government to encourage retailers to ensure that imports fall to 30% by 2010.

Patrick Holden, director of the SA, said: “The organic market is thriving and is being driven by consumers who want to buy fresh, local, good-quality seasonal food directly from the farmer.”

“The leading supermarkets must take note of the public‘s wishes and increase the amount of locally-sourced organic food in store, which should come from small and medium-sized farms.”

According to the SA, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury‘s and Waitrose have done most to reduce their reliance on imports and stock more organic food from UK farmers.

But the organisation is warning that slashing the price of organic products to expand sales does not work convincingly and can have serious consequences for producers.

“If supermarket buyers pay their suppliers significantly less, the small, mixed family farms that are the bedrock of the organic movement can no longer afford to supply them,” Mr Holden said.