Sales of organic food could fall as the credit crunch forces shoppers to turn to cheaper alternatives, a study has predicted.

Nearly half of shoppers who regularly buy organic produce will cut back or even stop buying organic food in the next year, research by Mintel has claimed.

Sales of organic produce have increased by 16% a year on average in the past five years, with the UK’s organic food and drink market now worth £1.6bn.

But consumer attitudes to organic food are changing, the survey said.

Richard Perks, director of retail and financial research, said consumers were beginning to question the value of organics and the benefits they got from paying a premium price.

In addition to the effects the credit crunch had on sales, organic food faced competition from other ethical choices such as fair trade and locally sourced produce, he added.

But Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said the survey’s results did not reflect experience so far.

“What we have heard from retailers so far is it’s the occasional buyers that are dropping out and that determined people, who are responsible for 80% of sales, are still buying,” he said.

“Everyone’s concerned that it’s going to be a difficult time and there has been an impact on sales, but there have also been gains with box schemes and at farm shops..

“It is much better to look at what is actually happening rather than making projections.”