The UK’s leading organic certification and promotional group the Soil Association, celebrated a landmark achievement in December, with one million high quality meals being served each workday in schools, universities, nurseries, workplaces, hospitals, care homes and restaurants across the UK through the Soil Association’s Food for Life Catering Mark that transformed food service.

The achievement came after the group proved that small changes can add up to a big difference, with Nielsen figures released in October showing that sales of organic food and drink through UK supermarkets were in excess of a staggering £100 million (pounds) in September 2014 -  equivalent to 3.6% growth – as a result of the Soil Association’s Organic September campaign.

The Food for Life Catering Mark provides more fresh, nutritious, environmentally sustainable, British, quality meals. It’s also changing catering – an industry previously driven by cost is now motivated by quality, healthy and traceable local sourcing, the Soil Association said.

The Catering Mark independently certifies food to ensure it meets high standards of provenance, freshness and quality and that British, local, environmentally sustainable and higher welfare products are used.

Through the Catering Mark, businesses now are showing that improving food quality at work can help to save money, meet CSR targets and strengthen the company brand. FTSE 100 companies including PearsonEDFJaguar Land Rover and PepsiCo are now serving Catering Mark meals to staff.

The Catering Mark is also referenced in the government’s Plan for Public Procurement: food and catering as a way to guarantee a good or excellent score across the Plan’s Balanced Scorecard.

Collectively, Catering Mark holders annually spend over £7 million on organic ingredients, nearly £4 million on free range and Freedom Food-certified meat, over £1.2 million on LEAF marque certified products and £3.8 million on MSC certified fish.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said: “This is a clear indication of just how far we have come in the last few years in terms of improving food eaten outside of the home. These numbers are continuing to grow rapidly as Government, public bodies and businesses recognise the value of an independent endorsement which guarantees high standards.

“This is for a clear way for businesses to demonstrate that they support UK farmers and food producers, and healthier, higher welfare, environmentally sustainable systems.”

Obesity and diet-related ill health cause 190 million days absence from work in the UK. Studies show that workplace health promotion leads to a return on investment of between £1.98 and £3.8 million due to reduced absenteeism and reduced staff turnover.

Catering Mark meals are now served in nearly 30 workplaces, 25% schools in England, 20% universities, 300+ nurseries and 100+ care home and hospital settings. Leading institutions with the award include the UK Department for EnvironmentFood and Rural Affairs, the Department for Educationthe National Assembly of Walesthe Greater London Authoritythe National Trustthe RSPB and the Scottish Government.

Organic market’s continued growth led by independent sector

Organic September, the Soil Association’s campaign to make organic the norm rather than the exception, encouraged consumers to make one small change in their shopping habits by choosing organic food and drink. Local independent retailers, online and national UK supermarkets were involved throughout the month of September and the campaign reached over 6 million people through social media.

Finn Cottle, trade consultant at the Soil Association, said: “This is a clear sign informed UK shoppers are becoming more loyal to organic food and drink. Campaigns like Organic September, alongside recent positive publicity and a renewed emphasis on innovation and new listings, are all helping to bolster performance.

“The organic sector has been performing exceptionally well since the release of Newcastle University’s research on the benefits of organic, and in fact this growth has taken place against the backdrop of a deflated non-organic sector.”

With 83% of UK households purchasing organic products in some form, the latest figures suggest the organic market shows no signs of slowing down. Nielsen figures for the 52 week period to 11 October 2014 show growth of 1.6%, compared to the same period last year.

This is in contrast to the non-organic market, which declined by 0.6% during the same time. Organic eggs (+ 11.7%), organic dairy (+8.4%) and organic poultry (+6.6%) have been some of the best performers.

The independent retail sector, which includes health and wholefood shops, also saw organic sales grow by 6.9% last year.

Increased innovation and accessibility to organic products is also having a positive effect on organic sales. Thanks to online retailers, a range of organic fruit and veg is now no more than a mouse click away.

German supermarket giant Aldi’s recent announcement to launch an organic veg range in supermarkets across the UK will continue to guarantee organic fruit and veg is available to a variety of new consumer segments, the Soil Association said.

Mike Kilcourse, commercial director at Tree of Life, one of the UK’s largest wholesalers of healthy and natural products said that interest in organic foods has been particularly strong recently.

“Sentiment among our retailer customers is positive. Recent growth in sales of organic products will have been helped by marketing and promotional activities right the way through the supply chain,” Mr Kilcourse said.

“Campaigns such as the Soil Association’s Organic September month long promotion, which we were glad to support this year, go a long way to help raise awareness. That coupled with new products and innovations from brands means we’re supplying customers with greater choice and helping supply meet consumer demand.”