Global sales of organic products continue to defy the economic downturn, growing by 8.8% in 2010 and continued growth in 2011. The only exception is in the UK where, despite areas of strong growth and improvement in the long term trend, overall sales were down by 3.7% in 2011, according to the UK Soil Association’s Organic Market Report 2012.

The Soil Association said in the report, released in March, that the main cause of the UK market’s overall decline was a 5% drop in multiple (chain) retail sales, which account for 71.4% of organic food sales. Reduction of choice, lack of communication about the reasons to buy organic products and a lack of investment in own-label organic ranges are the key factors of this decline.

Despite the tough environment, there are a number of UK organic success stories including baby food (+6.6%); lamb (+16%); poultry (+5.8%) and cosmetics (+8.7%). Innovation in retail has benefited the sector with sales through box schemes, home delivery and mail order up by 7.2% to 167 million pounds, while independent retail sales increased their share of the organic market to 28.6%.

Waitrose saw sales decrease by 2.2% compared to a 9.5% drop in the combined sales of the other six leading multiple retailers. The British recession is seen as hitting middle-ground stores and causing polarisation towards Aldi and Lidl at the lower price point end and Waitrose at the premium grocery end. Other key findings of the Soil Association’s Organic Market Report include:

* Local and direct sales of organic fruit and vegetables and supermarket sales of organic fruit held their own, despite a drop in sales of organic vegetables and salads through multiple retailers.

* Dairy products and fresh fruit and vegetables continue to be the most popular organic categories accounting for 29% and 23% of sales respectively.

* Outside the retail sector, the restaurant and catering segment grew by 2.4%. Notable successes in 2011 include an increased take-up of organic food in schools, nurseries and hospitals through the Soil Association-led Food for Life Partnership and Food for Life Catering Mark.

* Soil Association Certification, the UK’s leading certifier of organic food and farming, reports that the turnover of its licensees increased by 0.5% from April 2011 to January 2012.

* UK organic land area decreased by 2.8% and represents 4.2% of farmland. The most encouraging picture was in England where the rate of conversion slowed but fully organic land area increased by 16%.

* Eight out of 10 households (83%) bought organic products in 2011.