Stores deny organic rip-off claim

7 February 2000

Stores deny ‘organic rip-off’ claim

By Donald MacPhail

SUPERMARKETS have hit back at claims that they are ripping off customers by charging inflated prices for organic products.

New research says big-name retailers are asking consumers to pay 60-70% more for organic meat, vegetables and other produce, than conventional lines.

Organic production costs are 30% higher, leaving stores with an average price difference double that, claims Dr Anna Ross of the University of the West of England.

“Supermarkets are able to exploit huge consumer demand with excessive price hikes on organic foods,” Dr Ross told the Independent on Sunday.

But a spokesman for Tesco – reported to add 71% to organic lines – said it was impossible to generalise across its organic ranges.

He said, for example, the differential between organic and conventional pork is far greater than that between organic and conventional carrots.

“Organic pork must be fed on organic grain and needs six times the land required to produce conventional pork.

“You cant generalise on differentials. They must be looked at on an individual basis.”

The spokesman said Tesco has invested 250,000 in University of Aberdeen research to look at ways of farming organically on a large scale.

He said once UK supply caught up with growing demand prices would fall.

A spokeswoman for Waitrose, accused of adding 62% to organic food prices, refused to comment on Dr Fords figures, saying the company did not know how they were calculated.

The differential may be distorted by extremely low conventional vegetable prices, she said, pointing out that some Waitrose organic lines were cheaper than their conventional counterparts.

But she insisted Waitrose, voted Organic Supermarket of the Year by a magazine, would meet the Soil Association, which oversees organic farming, and “meet any concerns head-on”.

She admitted, however, that factors other than price persuaded consumers to buy organic products.

“People are not just buying on price, but a whole host of factors. Range, quality and availability are also important.”

She said Waitrose ran an organic assistance scheme to support and encourage organic farming.

A spokeswoman for the Soil Association said she did not know why supermarket organic lines may cost disproportionately more.

“Id like to think it was due to short supply.”

She said for research to be accurate it had to look at a number of branches of particular stores over a reasonable period of time.

The spokeswoman added that many Soil Association members chose to sell produce direct to the customer through farmers markets and box schemes.

Demand in Britain for organic produce has increased by 40% in each of the last two years, but still accounts for no more than 2% of food sales.

Less than 2% of land is under organic cultivation.

It is estimated that supermarkets import 70% of their organic produce.

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