Organic food consumption surges
Millions of consumers have turned to organic food during the COVID-19 pandemic and more than half of all shoppers have bought certified organic in the last year, according to the Australian Organic Market Report 2021 released by Australian Organic Limited (AOL).
AOL CEO Niki Ford says the health and environmental benefits of organic food production, which is free from chemicals, pesticides and fertilisers, are driving the sector’s growth.
“Consumers are prioritising personal and environmental health,” she says. “Recent climatic events and the pandemic have brought this to front of mind. Over the course of the past year, we’ve seen around nine million Australian households purchase organic food.”
A growing industry
According to the report, Australians are encouraged by the health benefits of organic food. Sixty-two percent of shoppers cited personal health as a motivator for their first purchase of organic produce; 45 percent chose organic due to environmental considerations.
The research also shows more than 80 percent of food shoppers in Australia are receptive to buying an organic product; 60 percent currently purchase organics at a low level but are showing a high interest in fresh organic produce. Thirty-seven percent of established organic shoppers increased the number of organic products they purchased in the past year; the average household spend on organic increased by 12.8 percent since 2019.
Ford says the organic industry has shown significant growth in the face of a turbulent year.
“The Australian certified organic industry continues to prosper despite the challenges faced over the past two years,” she says. “Through drought, bushfires, floods and the pandemic, the industry continues to grow at an impressive rate. There are now 4233 organic operations in Australia, displaying steady long-term growth of 38 percent since 2011.”
A matter of trust
While the industry is growing, the majority of shoppers didn’t know that there’s currently no single legal definition for use of the term “organic” in Australia. A third of shoppers who purchased an organic product in the last 12 months also said organic claims have misled them in the past. This gives further urgency to the need for a mandatory domestic standard for use of the term “organic” in Australia.
“The current lack of a unified, legal organic definition undermines shopper confidence,” Ford says. “Global markets with standards in place can be sure the organic products they’re purchasing from Australian businesses are certified organic. It is unfortunate that Australian consumers cannot enjoy the same level of confidence. This creates confusion and is causing consumer mistrust within the organic marketplace.”
The Organics Industry Advisory Group will assess whether the current organic regulatory framework is fit for purpose. A final report with key recommendations is due to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud this month.