Sales of organic foods continue to turn in buoyant sales figures in many world markets leading in many cases to shortages as organic production strains to match rampant demand.
Countries such as the US, France and the UK have all reported supply shortfalls, and many others are in a similar situation, despite massive expansion in organic farmland and food production. The result has been increased prices or increased imports to meet demand—or both.
In the UK, Europe's third biggest organic market behind Italy and Germany, organically managed land expanded by 14 per cent last year, but could not keep up with burgeoning demand, which increased by 30 per cent to about $3 billion in the same period according to the UK Soil Association.
While this figure only represents a small percentage of the overall UK food trade, the rate at which organic food sales are growing dwarfs the mainstream food industry, which sits at something around 2-4 per cent.
Soil Association figures highlighted the fact two out of three consumers knowingly buying organic food and beverages with more than half of those coming from lower income brackets.
In the US, shortages are coming to define the industry. US Organic Trade Association figures note the US organic food industry grew 16.2 per cent with sales of $13.8 billion in 2005, representing 2.5 per cent of total US food sales (up from 0.8 per cent in 1997). Yet the US's estimated 10,000 organic farms and other organic production facilities can't keep pace and the US has begun sourcing organic produce from all over the world.
One example is Stonyfield Farm, a US organic dairy pioneer, which is in the process of establishing links with New Zealand suppliers to guarantee its requirements for organic powdered milk. Stonyfield Farm and other organic food manufacturers have even started giving financial assistance to farmers making the switch to organic farming.
In France, imports are also on the rise in sectors such as dairy products, soy products, processed vegetable products, beverages and food complements. The supply-demand shortfall is being compounded by a levelling out in organic farmland after many years of strong growth, with the organic planted area actually dropping marginally in recent years.