Tesco and Sainsbury’s – which between them occupy 47% of the UK grocery market – have announced plans to launch their own organic box schemes to capture more of the £1.6bn organic market, currently growing at 30% a year.

Sainsbury’s will be the first to begin its trial at the end of the month.

Initially it will be available to about 500,000 consumers in the East Midlands and East Anglia.

Available only to on-line shoppers, each box will cost £15 plus delivery and will contain eight kinds of seasonal organic produce sourced from UK growers.

Depending on its success, Sainsbury’s may extend the range of produce to include fresh meat and poultry.

Tesco will launch its trial in early September, initially in the south London area.

Like Sainsbury’s, it will source only UK fruit, vegetables and salad items.

The decision to target south London is not surprising.

Analysis of Tesco Clubcard data, freely available to farmers through the levy boards (see Business, 23 June), suggests south London is home to the greatest concentration of organic households of any region in the UK.

Also available only to on-line shoppers, the Tesco scheme will use its supplier’s own brand – Fenland Organics.

At £11, it will be £4 cheaper than Sainsbury’s box and, with 10 items, will contain two more products.

Both retailers also plan to include information cards about the produce, the method of production, and recipe suggestions.

Robin Maynard, the Soil Association’s communications director, said it would be foolish to dismiss the retailers’ move into the organic market.

“Arguably, the box schemes grew out of a backlash against the stranglehold that supermarkets had on the nation’s food.

“People wanted natural food, grown locally, and were willing to pay a fair price.

It would be foolish and curmudgeonly to dismiss Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s entry into this market, but we have concerns.”

Philip White of Riverford Organics, Devon, which supplies consumers across the south-east, and River Nene Organics, which supplies consumers in East Anglia, was not surprised by the news.

“It’s a two-edged sword,” he said.

“On the one hand it highlights the benefits of organic food, which has to be great for the sector, but I would question their understanding of the ethos behind running a box scheme.

“I’m confident that what we offer will surpass what the retailers offer.

Consumers will always want to shop elsewhere.

Our brand is based on trust and we’re confident consumers will maintain their faith in us.”

andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk