CO-OP CLAIMS BEEF AND LAMB ARE POOR RELATIONS OF ORGANIC BOOM:BY SHIRLEY MACMILLAN

By Shirley Macmillan DESPITE THE growth in organic sales reported by the Soil Association (News, Nov 19), UK organic livestock producers are still dealing with supply and quality issues.

Figures released in the Organic Food and Farming Report 2004 are not showing increases across the board, says Organic Livestock Marketing Co-op’s managing director Ralph Human.

 “There is an increase in fruit and vegetable sales – of which 70% are imported anyway – and an increase in milk consumption, but meat is the poor relation,” he explains.

Mr Human believes a combination of better beef quality, farm assurance schemes and the perception that beef – and lamb – production is already green, means consumers aren’t prepared to pay the premium for organic meat.

 “Some 60% of all organic forequarter meat destined for sausages, stewing or mincing is sold conventionally – even when produced organically,” he adds.

Farmers” markets account for less than 10% of organic meat sold. Yet supermarket demands for continuity of supply can’t be met by the large number of small organic producers, says Mr Human. Fragmentation makes marketing complicated and expensive, so it’s easier for supermarkets to import organic meat.

 He thinks some organic livestock producers will return to conventional production in 1-2 years leading to a further dip in supplies. “They converted for commercial reasons, but will go back because of the perceived hassle of organic.”

 However, OLMC has made positive steps in the past five years, says Mr Human, with Tesco, Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer recognising its value in the supply chain. The next five years will focus on supply and quality. “Producers started organic with rare breeds, but now supermarkets want the same as for conventional beef – uniformity in carcass and supply.”

MILK SUPPLY

 Matching supply and demand continues to be an issue for organic milk, says independent marketing consultant John Taylerson.

Some dairy companies have maintained premiums for organic milk. “But supply also needs to reflect the seasonal demand for milk – in other words a year-round supply, not great volumes dumped on the market in spring,” he says.

Mr Taylerson believes more differentiation in organic dairy produce will be needed. “Companies still need to look for branding among organic products and shouldn’t ignore functionality or traceability as they add value.

While sales of organic dairy produce are increasing through farmers markets, farm shops and organic box schemes, Mr Taylerson points out that promotion to consumers is more sporadic. “Supermarkets are an everyday shopping experience, so the message is more powerful.”