Organic producers need to convince consumers of the benefits of organic food if the sector is going to recover from the battering it has taken during the recession, a leading retailer has claimed.

Debbie Robinson, director of food marketing for the Co-Op, told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton that organic food had “been the victim” during the recession as people cut their food expenditure.

But sales of fair trade and high welfare products had “gone from strength to strength”, showing people were willing to spend more on products if they clearly understood the benefits of them, she added.

“There’s an opportunity to learn from other areas about communicating the specific benefits of the products,” she said.

“Organic systems have to be there as a challenge to conventional and intensive systems but there’s more that needs to be done in terms of communication.”

Mrs Robinson said the decline in organic sales had begun before the publication of a controversial report by the Foods Standards Agency  in July which said there were no health benefits to organic food.

Defending the report, FSA chairman Jeff Rooker said the conclusions had been taken out of context by the media.

“The report reviewed all the material over the past 50 years on the basis of nutritional values and there was no material on the health benefits,” he said.

“The FSA is open and transparent. We were not making a point that one type of production is better than the other.

“The report didn’t look at climate change or sustainability, it’s not making claims, it was just looking at health and nutritional values.”