SALES OF organic food are growing by 2m a week, twice the rate of the total food market, according to new figures from the Soil Association. Organic food sales have increased by over 10% over the last year, and organic retail sales are now worth £1.12bn.

The SA’s Organic Food and Farming Report 2004 shows imports of organic food have declined over the last few years from 70% to 56% of total organic sales in Britain in 2003-04.

SA director Patrick Holden 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 report, Marks & 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 warns 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,” said Mr Holden.

The proportion of organic food sold through supermarkets has fallen by 1% for the second year running, whereas sales through box schemes, farmers” markets or farm shops have soared by 16% and are now worth £108m a year.

This development corresponds with figures from the National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association, which expects a record £25m in total sales from farmers’ markets in December, making them the fastest-growing sector in the food market.

According to research carried out for FARMA, total sales from farmers’ markets reached £120m last year. Sales from farm shops across Britain were £1.5bn.