09 April 1999
US organic farmers target Europe

By Mike Stones in Brighton

BOOMING demand for organic foods is leading American farmers and producers to target consumers across Europe, it was claimed this morning.

More US producers are realising the significant growth potential of the European organic market, said Laura Scandurra, US agricultural attach to the Netherlands.

Rising organic production throughout the EU, particularly in Spain and Italy, is failing to keep pace with 30-40% increases in demand, she said.

That will attract imports of US organic produce Ms Scandurra told delegates this mornings conference on organic and natural products in Brighton.

Organic food sales in Europe are currently valued at $4.5bn or 1.5% of total retail food sales, she claimed.

Ms Scandurra, who studies the EU organic sector for the US government, said retail food sales are likely to rise by between 5-10% by 2005.

The increase in demand would tempt US producers to lift their existing EU exports of organic wheat, flour, maize, fruits, vegetables and canned tomatoes, she said.

But European farmers producers had nothing to fear from spiralling US organic food exports because home demand was rising so rapidly, she claimed.

Ms Scandurra claimed demand is being fuelled by consumer fears about food safety, particularly after the BSE crisis and the controversy over genetically modified crops.

At present, the UK organic market is dominated by fruit and vegetables which account for 54% of total sales, followed by cereal products at 14% and dairy products at 7%.

Future demand will increasingly focus on organic convenience and prepared foods, predicted Ms Scandurra.

Mirroring conventional food sales, supermarkets are set to play an increasingly dominant role in retailing organic foods.

In this country they already sell 67% of all organic produce, compared with 19% by farmers markets and home delivery services and 12% by independent stores.

Supermarkets would try to strengthen their grip on organic sales even further by introducing their own label brands, said Ms Scandurra.

Consumers who buy organic food are likely to be educated and urban-based with a high disposable income.

Those under the age of 35 or over 60 are likely to buy organic, as are single households, including students and families with young children.

But organic produce is rejected by consumers if they perceive it is too highly priced, poorly presented, or if the product range is too limited.