2017 – another great year for organic

15 January 2018.

2017 saw the organic food, drink, beauty and textiles sectors all grow as consumers look for more sustainably and transparently produced products, particularly as innovation from licensees has led to thousands of new and exciting developments in store. Our recent research, to be launched with the Organic Market Report, really shows how organic fits with the current food trends and needs of not just millennials, but across the spectrum. We are proud at how much the market has grown, but we couldn’t have done it without you, our licensees.

Soil Association Certification offers support to grow your business, whether that is a multi-national brand, an organic retailer or a small vegetable producer across the UK. As well as tailored marketing support to help get the organic message to customers, there is data available about organic – market and consumer, and through the sector forums – that you can use to plan your business. Access to market takes the form of meet the buyer days and meet the caterer for the ever-increasing food service opportunity. Our expert technical and certification advice teams are on hand to provide up to date information so please do get in touch if there is anything you need or would like to find out more about.

Here are some of the highlights from 2017, with another year of growth – read on to find out how you can get involved and help grow your organic business in 2018.

Sales of organic in supermarkets grew by over 4%, with new figures to come for the organic market report – this will be the sixth consecutive year of growth and this looks set to continue into 2018.

Land in conversion has been increasing and we have seen a growing number of new licensees joining us. We offer a full support package to those wanting to convert to organic. Get in touch to find out more.

Organic in the news reached more readers than ever. From lifestyle online publications like Refinery 29 to the Metro, Independent and The Sun, and with more coverage than ever in Farming and Trade press, showing an increasing interest from consumers and business alike.

Our award-winning BOOM (Best of Organic Market) Awards are one of the highlights of the organic events calendar and the only award ceremony of its kind dedicated to organic products and producers. We had a fantastic number of businesses, journalists, retailers (and members of the public) getting involved. Following the last two incredibly successful years, we’re looking to run them bi-annually and when we return, they will be even bigger and better! We are delighted to announce that the next BOOM Awards will take place in June 2019, with entries opening in January 2019. In the meantime, we’re happy to say that we’re working in collaboration with Fresh Produce Journal to introduce an organic category in the UK Fruit & Vegetable Awards for 2018.

We had great success with Organic September this year, where Nielsen Scantrack data revealed that organic food sales grew by a fantastic 7.1% in the 4 weeks to 30 September. More shoppers engaged with the campaign – media coverage achieved 61m and we had a social media reach of over 38m in the month of September alone. The “Why I Choose Organic” video had almost 1,000 views and the new Organic September Saturday saw over 150 independent stores join in with Organic September Saturday, as well as 19 events taking place throughout the month – this included a takeover at Whole Foods, hosting a pop-up kitchen, with 13 brands and bloggers engaging with the public.

Organic beauty continues to go from strength to strength as interest in natural alternatives grows. Our voice within the organic cosmetics industry has never been so important, with the market growing at 24% and organic beauty week reaching 6.2 million online consumers, including the bestselling YOU magazine beauty box.

We worked with IFOAM UK to represent the whole organic industry in the Brexit process. This includes ongoing discussions with George Eustice and with IFOAM International, taking a major role in trying to influence the outcome of the proposed new Organic Regulation, including lobbying Defra and the Minister to ensure that the new regulation is not implemented if fundamental issues with the new proposals aren’t resolved. We’ve also been leading an ongoing constructive dialogue with Defra on implementation of current European regulations in a way that is best for the UK market.

Over 3,000 new products were certified by Soil Association Certification in the last 6 months alone and we’re excited to follow the progress of some really innovative product categories. We look forward to seeing what comes out in 2018.

We issued an updated version of the ‘What You Can Say When Selling Organic’ booklet this year and saw really positive uptake of the Organic, Food As It Should Be messaging, helping consumers understand what organic is in the confused sea of messaging and claims. Research shows that 80% of shoppers would be more likely to buy when they see Organic – Food As It Should Be.

The Soil Association charity ran high level, successful campaigns – these included ‘Save Our Antibiotics’ (part of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, of which we are a founding member), which called for the reduction of routine antibiotics use in farming; and a reduction for maize subsidies (grown for use in anaerobic digestion) from the government by 50% to protect the health of our soils. Through its Innovative Farming programme, they’ve brought together over 400 organic and non-organic farmers, as well as advisors, researchers and businesses, to try and tackle some of the stark challenges farming faces.

Our Out to Lunch campaign continued to drive improvements in children’s food on the high street. The 2017 league table showed notable improvements, with 13 chains now serving a portion of veg or salad with every meal, up from 6 chains in 2013, and 12 chains, including Wetherspoons and Giraffe, now including organic ingredients on the menu, up from 4 chains in 2013. In 2018, we will be turning our attention to popular attractions, such as zoos, museums and visitor centres, compiling a new league table and encouraging these attractions to serve healthier and more sustainable meals.

Campaign for Clarity is an initiative to put an end to “greenwashing” – brands making claims that their products are ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ when they contain ingredients that are not permitted in organic certification or are made up of less than 1% organic contents. The campaign called on brands to ‘come clean’ about the chemicals used in their products, encouraging people to sign a petition and tweet the hashtag #comecleanaboutbeauty to spread the word about the campaign. Over 4,500 people signed the petition, which was a great signifier that consumers want brands to be more open about what goes into their products and also helped to inform them about what organic beauty really is.

As if that wasn’t enough, there were markets, pop-ups, blogger days, and ‘Meet the Buyers’ events; stands at NOPE, Speciality Fine Food Fair, Expo West, the Royal Highland Show and the Royal Welsh Show; training days for over 250 retailers and team members; new store openings and much, much, more. Thanks to everyone who got involved – we’ve really enjoyed working with you and the team at Soil Association Certification is looking forward to achieving even more with you in 2018.


Dates for your Diary
2018 – Continued growth for the organic market is on the cards. Get involved and join us at the shows below:

22nd January: The 2nd “Give It Some Welly” event is taking place in Edinburgh, linking up restaurants and producers around our Organic Served Here award scheme

19th February: The 3rd “Give It Some Welly” event is taking place in Edinburgh, linking up restaurants and producers around our Organic Served Here award scheme

9th February: National Pizza Day – join us and Foodism to promote how easy eating organic (pizza) can be

28th February:  Organic Market Report 2018: Highlights and Insights Event at Triodos Bank, Bristol

14th March: Marketing Organic Briefing – the latest research and “What You Can Say” messaging.

20th March: “Crossing the Pond” US Export Event

22nd – 23rd April: Find us at Natural and Organic Products Europe Show, London, where we’re once again holding a joint pavilion with the Organic Trade Board. We’ll also be doing talks on highlights from the Organic Market Report and consumer research, the support we offer to those in the independent retail industry, and organic beauty.

1st May: Food Service Supplier Day at Riverford

7th – 13th May: Organic Beauty & Well-Being Week (There will be a pop-up event running from Friday 11th to Sunday 13th September, location TBC)

13th June: OTB’s Wake Up to Organic

21st – 24th June: Royal Highland Show

29th – 31st August: Natural & Organic Products Asia Show, Hong Kong

September: Organic September

2nd – 4th September: Speciality Fine Food Fair

15th September: Organic September Saturday

14th October: Natural Health Trade Summit

December: Organic Christmas

Source: Soil Association website

The Hidden Cost of UK Food

UK food sector’s shadow economy costs taxpayers £120bn, new report finds.

A new report by the Sustainable Food Trust finds that UK citizens pay twice as much for food as they realise. The Hidden Cost of UK Food finds that, for each £1 spent on food in the shops, consumers incur extra hidden costs of £1.

In addition to the £120 billion spent annually on food by consumers, the UK food system generates further costs of £120 billion, nearly 30 times higher than previous composite estimates have indicated. These extra costs are not paid by the food businesses that cause them, nor are they included within the retail price of food. Instead they are passed on to society in a range of hidden ways – meaning that UK consumers are, in effect, paying twice for their food.

The most significant share of this total is made up by the damaging impacts of intensive production methods, including environmental pollution, soil degradation, biodiversity loss and some health impacts. These account for an extra 50p of every £1 spent on food. Food-related healthcare costs, linked to poor diets, account for an extra 37p. A high proportion of these extra costs are paid through general and local taxation, water charges, bottle water purchases, private healthcare insurance and lost income.

Regulatory, administrative and research costs were found to account for a further 2.7p of every £1 spent on food in additional ways, with food imports to the UK accounting for an extra 7.8p for every £1 spent.

A particularly surprising finding was that taxpayers’ subsidies to farmers were found to be equivalent to just 2.5p of every pound spent on food in hidden ways, an unexpectedly low percentage of the total. The authors make the case for the continuation of taxpayers’ subsidy to farmers post-Brexit, but argue that the funds should be used to incentivise more sustainable methods of food production.

The Sustainable Food Trust published these findings in London at a breakfast briefing hosted by Brunswick and attended by senior representatives from the food and farming industries, leading scientists, policy-makers and civil society organisations.

Jules Pretty, Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex, who spoke at the event, said: “This report is timely and important. It shows that current UK agroecosystems still produce considerable environmental externalities. They impose costs on others. We have known the concerns, and now we have some critical data. Some of the report’s recommendations are new, some long-standing. At their core is the suggestion that redesign of our agricultural and food systems could be a game changer, setting agriculture on a journey towards sustainability, but with a clearer sense of multiple food and environmental targets and much wider social benefits.”

The report argues that the failure of the UK food economy to account for these hidden costs has given rise to perverse incentives in the food system; where it is more profitable to produce and distribute food in damaging ways, than in ways which deliver environmental and public health benefits. Many food businesses keep their expenditure to a minimum by passing the cost burden of environmentally-damaging practices to the public sector, with taxpayers picking up the tab.

Patrick Holden, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “There is a shadow food economy which we all contribute to without realising it. For every £1 we hand over at the till another £1 is quietly taken from us without our consent. The current UK food system thrives only because it does not account for the full costs of production or consumption, which are paid for in hidden ways.

Those who pollute or degrade do not pay for the damage they cause. Conversely, those who farm more sustainably are forced to cover the higher cost of producing food in more beneficial ways. This means there is no business case for producers to adopt more sustainable approaches. The government can and must factor in these hidden costs and benefits in developing post-Brexit food and farming policies.”

The Sustainable Food Trust is calling for decisive policy action to internalise the hidden costs of food, in order to level the playing field between the most damaging food systems and those which are more sustainable. This report calls on the government to introduce taxes on the most harmful aspects of intensive agriculture, such as the use of nitrogen fertiliser. This would provide revenue to the state, which could be used to pay farmers to adopt food production approaches which have positive rather than negative impacts, such as practices to increase soil carbon sequestration.

Duncan Pollard from Nestlé, who also spoke at the event, said: “There is growing awareness within the food sector of the need to source foods produced in ways which care for soils and protect environmental and human health. The introduction of true cost accounting into agricultural policy could help food businesses to make sound decisions about how to assess and manage the impacts of their operations, and help to incentivise investment in agricultural commodities produced in environmentally sustainable ways.

Importantly, this approach would ensure that food businesses operate within an economic landscape which rewards responsible sourcing practices. This research report is therefore a timely and welcome contribution to the discourse – providing not only a methodological approach, but also a considered estimate of the negative impacts of the UK food system.”

by Sustainable Food Trust on 21 November, 2017 in Food Policy, Food Systems

News from Hughes

Good morning
Taking stock of the glasshouse today it is showing signs of plenty. Tomatoes are well formed and a small amount of Cherries have already been sampled. Aubergines are emerging with deep, rich purple skin. Both will soon be ready soon.
Mini Cucumbers have have fared well but Peppers are further behind having needed much “defruiting” to help them recover from the earlier aphid infestation.
Early Beans are cropping well but the second planting is less substantial after suffering stress in the initial heatwave and then from the subsequent cold as it disappeared. They are recovering now and should start yielding in the next few weeks.
In this season of extreme weather there have been several problems. We have had temperatures in excess of 40c on numerous occasions and this is always challenging.
But the heatwave that prompted the melon aphid outbreak that killed the Early Courgettes has also aided the massive Ladybird population that has taken over of pest control with astonishing efficiency. An Aphid is hard to find at the moment, let’s hope it stays that way. At this time of the year Red Spider becomes the main concern and we may need some help with that with some more specialist predators.
Mid July is the time everything really starts to bear fruit. Generally the crops look promising and we look forward with hopeful anticipation.
Best wishes
Grahame and Lizzie Hughes

The Next Government Must Prioritise Soil

*Soil Association website, 28th April 2017.

soil-95-stat-no-logoIn the run-up to the general election, we’re urging all parties to commit to protecting and restoring soil health in their manifestos – as part of a new vision for agriculture that promotes a holistic landscape approach to farming and transitions to a more environmentally sustainable and resilient food and farming system.

Healthy soils are essential for food security, climate change and public health. Yet, soils have been neglected and left to deteriorate.  Almost a third of the world’s arable soils have been lost to erosion and pollution over the last 40 years, and it will take hundreds or thousands of years for these degraded soils to recover naturally.  In the UK, we lose an estimated 2.2 million tonnes of topsoil each year, costing around £45 million per year, of which £9 million is in lost production and reduced yields.

It’s essential that the new Government acts to stop the loss of UK soils.

A key measure of soil health is levels of soil organic matter (SOM), which is crucial for long-term yields, food quality, extreme weather resilience, and as a vital store of soil carbon. Increasing the organic content of British agricultural soils would be game-changing. By increasing the SOM level in degraded UK soils by 20% over the next 20 years, UK soils would provide better defence against flooding by reducing run-off and would dramatically increase the yield and quality of food produced.

The new Government should provide soil stewardship payments to incentivise farmers to increase the organic matter in the soil and make improving soil health a requirement of all farm tenancies.

Increasing SOM also increases soil carbon levels. Healthy soils act as a carbon sink by drawing carbon down into the soil to store it. Improving soil health is therefore a critical way to tackle climate change. Recognizing the ability of soil to sequester carbon and its contribution to climate mitigation, the UK signed onto the French government’s the 4 per 1000 soil carbon initiative at the UN Climate Change Convention in Paris. This initiative aims to increase soil organic carbon by 0.4% each year.

The next Government should establish the regular monitoring and reporting of soil organic matter by farmers to form a national database to inform future soil health research and data collection.

Given that healthy soils boost productivity and resilience, farmers have an obvious incentive to increase SOM. However, often they rely on cheap and plentiful nitrogen fertiliser instead. Applying artificial fertiliser is often cheaper, at least in the short term, than building soil fertility. By using cover crops to fix nitrogen from the air and build organic matter in the soil, they would create a healthier soil ecosystem for their crops, increase soil biodiversity and reduce erosion.

Any agriculture policy proposed by the new Government must increase support for cover crops.

Improving the SOM and soil carbon levels in UK soils should be a priority for the incoming UK government. Not only would such an approach increase yields but it would also help mitigate the impacts of climate change by helping to sequester carbon and reduce emissions.

Soil protection is one of our top manifesto asks for all parties.  Until Tuesday 2 May, it’s still possible to email your current MP to let them know that soil health matters to you.  You can email your MP easily from here.  If you have your own ideas for food and farming priorities, please share them too.  Not all candidates for the general election have been selected yet but, if they have in your area, now is also a good time to contact them.

Cathi Pawson – Zaytoun. Soil Association Interview

hi-res-logoZaytoun is the UK social enterprise which launched Fairtrade organic olive oil from Palestine to British customers in 2009. Having started as a grassroots initiative to support Palestinian farmers who had lost overseas markets, back in 2004, the company has grown steadily to achieve sales of over £1 million, with an office in central London.

How did Zaytoun begin/get started?

The initiative for trading olive oil as a means for supporting Palestinian farmers came from the founders’ trips to Palestine in 2003. International borders had just reopened after the intifada, but in the meantime the export market for olive oil had been lost to Jordanian producers. The harvest of 2003 was a bumper one, and having tasted the beautiful oil I and my co-founders Heather, Atif and Sal determined to try and sell some of it in the UK. I was working for then MEP Caroline Lucas at the time, and to highlight her trip to Palestine we had been selling the olive oil at street stalls. I knew it created a talking point, and a tangible way for people in Britain to connect with, and support Palestinian farming communities. Good food is a universal connector of peoples, a reason to get together, a way of talking about each other’s lives that, in the case of Palestinian olive oil, wasn’t head-on about the confrontations and violence of the occupation.

As a company, we owe much of our success to a vigorous network of distributors and supporters around the country, who are passionate about good food, Fairtrade and supporting Palestinian family farmers through trade.  From the very beginning people have volunteered to hold stalls, visit Palestine with us, offer talks and even invest in our company. We remain a very ‘human-scale’ company – relatively small, though we hope our impact is large, and still very much connected to our customers as well as to the farmer cooperatives who have grown with us through the years.

Why organic?

Supporting those farmers to achieve organic certification for their olive oil was an easy choice to make, as they also prepared for Fairtrade certification and brought traceability and best practice into their operations. Most small farmers in Palestine already grow organically, relying on low-tech local solutions to manage pests and boost the productivity of their crops as the import of chemicals is banned under the occupation. In this way, skills and traditions that have been passed down for generations in Palestinian families are now increasingly important as their overseas customers are choosing high-quality, organically grown products. In a land where access to clean water and fertile land is made scarce, these resources become even more precious. Along with the farmers who grow our products, we see organic growing as a foundation for resilient livelihoods and environmental sustainability.

What role does the Soil Association play for you?

Working with the Soil Association has been very supportive, increasing the profile of our own organic products but also for the farmers who grow them, and for whom the certification process was entirely new when they began, several years ago.

What’s next for you and Zaytoun?

We are constantly innovating, looking for new products to add to our range so that we can support more farming communities and delight more customers. We are reaching out to new customers through the resurgence of interest in fine foods and cuisine from around the world. It is exciting to be increasingly working in partnership with other Fairtrade and organic brands as well as well-known chefs and food writers to bring the rich heritage of Palestinian food culture to more British customers.




Latest from the glasshouse

Good morning.
There is a little bit more of September about the air now.
The exceptionally hot spell seriously boosted Tomato ripening and also extended some extra late development of Aubergines, both very welcome. Tomatoes are picking high in the vines now and are slower ripening as the temperatures fall. They will be few after this week and Aubergines will be the same. Then it will be a concentrated planting time as we replace with Winter and Spring crops.
Outside Broccoli is abundant from the Breckland farm and Pointed Cabbage will follow at the end of this week.
In Lincolnshire the Potato harvest is nearing it’s end and we will resume Winter produce from there early next month with Beetroot ,Kales and Cauliflower as well as Potatoes.
That will mark a major shift in season.
Best wishes,
Grahame and Lizzie Hughes

Fresh News from Hughes Organics

Good morning
There is a little bit more of September about the air now.
The exceptionally hot spell seriously boosted Tomato ripening and also extended some extra late development of Aubergines, both very welcome. Tomatoes are picking high in the vines now and are slower ripening as the temperatures fall. They will be few after this week and Aubergines will be the same. Then it will be a concentrated planting time as we replace with Winter and Spring crops.
Outside Broccoli is abundant from the Breckland farm and Pointed Cabbage will follow at the end of this week.
In Lincolnshire the Potato harvest is nearing it’s end and we will resume Winter produce from there early next month with Beetroot ,Kales and Cauliflower as well as Potatoes.
That will mark a major shift in season.
Best wishes
Grahame and Lizzie Hughes

Latest news from our suppliers

Good morning
With the rather pleasant Autumn weather looking set to continue we should see our new plantings get away quickly. With Summer crops in rapid decline they will be welcome.
We just have remnants of Courgettes, Beans and Cucumber now; Aubergines and Peppers are rapidly depleting although Tomatoes are still abundant and will continue to enjoy the bright weather.
Chard is growing rapidly, also enjoying the warmth. It is taking the place of the Summer crops and will be followed by more Autumn leaves as time progresses.
Sowing and planting continue.
Best wishes
Grahame and Lizzie Hughes

Latest from Hughes 22/08/16

Good morning
As some of the early summer crops have started to clear we have been able to get some Autumn Chard, Salads and Spinach going to take us into the next season. It will be back to leaves. In the meantime the fruiting crops of Tomatoes, Aubergine and Peppers are reaching their peak over the next couple of weeks. As ever Summer seems to have passed in a flash. In the Glasshouse the crops have run pretty well but the field crops are still challenging. Onions are likely to be scarce and roots still a slight unknown. Squash are reportedly small from Bedlams but we wait to hear of the crop at Wakelyn’s. Later planted Brassicas should have fared ok but delayed planting in poor conditions will be challenging to continuity. We will see how it all unfolds but few seasons have been as difficult as this.
Best wishes,
Grahame and Lizzie Hughes

A word from Hughes

As we approach August we find ourselves concentrating on our own Glasshouse production and that of Breckland Organics. With orders for other field crops typically low, we find it uneconomic to collect from Woodlands Farm in Lincolnshire who often supply cauliflower and calabrese among other things.
In the meantime we have a good harvest from the Glasshouse with many crops now in full flow.. Brecklands have had many weather related problems and the Onion crop is one casualty, not reaching a suitable size. However they are able to salvage some smaller grade for us to use, and that should supply us until the New Year at least. Many Onion crops have been lost in East Anglia as a result of mildew, the scourge of wet seasons, so we are fortunate.
We are waiting to hear about Sweetcorn which also suffered in the rainy season but should have enjoyed the warmer, drier July.
I will keep you updated but the availability will change little over the next few weeks although we should have a full range of heritage Tomatoes from the end of this week so they will come available.
Best wishes
Grahame and Lizzie Hughes