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Agenda: How to feed the growing appetite among Scots for organic products

The Soil Association's 2014 Organic Market Report shows sales of organic products in the UK grew by 2.8% last year, slightly ahead of overall grocery sales (up 2.1%).

This is a sign of growing confidence after four years of contraction, with the independent retail sector leading the way.

Another positive sign is that Scots are increasingly looking for organic produce. Sales are growing at a faster pace than in the rest of the UK. Kantar Worldpanel data supplied by the Scottish Government shows that organic spending over the year to the beginning of January increased by 8.2% on the previous year, ahead of the 6.2% growth for Britain.

Our report, launched today, shows shoppers are increasingly looking to local, specialist and online outlets for the quality and variety of organic products that are not available in many supermarkets, demonstrated by the 6.9% increase in organic sales through independent outlets. In Scotland, there are some wonderful Soil Association certified organic retailers, providing a way of investing the food budget in clean and green local business with knowledgeable service.

Regional box schemes can be great value for money, such as Grow Wild and Whitmuir in the Central Belt, Pillars of Hercules and Bellfield in Fife and McLeod Organics in the North East.

Most offer convenient online shopping too, including Peelham Farm for charcuterie, and Grierson Organics for organic meat. New opportunities are coming up all the time. The Herdshare initiative from Cream o' Galloway gives people a chance to invest in their direct milk supply.

Growth in the multiple retail sector was 1.2% over the last year, with Waitrose performing strongly and growing its own brand organic range by 6.5%. Sainsbury's, the UK's largest organic retailer, saw organic own brand growth of 7%.

All of this is a challenge to other multiples to raise their game and offer a full range of organic products online and instore to meet customer expectations, as the market looks set to continue its positive growth. There is also a responsibility on multiple retailers to help strengthen supply chains for the future and boost farmer confidence, which is vital if we want to sustain growth figures.

In Scotland, the area of land certified as organic has been declining for some years, though this seems to be stabilising. As the organic market returns to growth, this is concerning. Demand for organic is increasing and we want to be able to meet it. We do not want to rely on importing organic produce from our European neighbours.

Along with the lost business and economic opportunities, this would also export the benefits of biodiversity, animal welfare, soil and water quality, all associated with organic production. Instead, let's support our existing and future organic farmers and growers better to supply the needs of our domestic market.

To help our farmers and growers have the confidence to build future supply, and continue to commit to organic production, we need support from policy makers as well as retailers.

Scotland is at the bottom of the EU league table in terms of financial support for organic farming and our farmers deserve the levels of support enjoyed by those elsewhere in Europe.

The Scottish Government can take action on this. It could also investigate how other countries are supporting their organic sectors.

Denmark has set ambitious targets for 60% of public sector procurement (food in schools, hospitals and prisons) to be organic. France has also made a commitment to targets for public sector food and to double the amount of organically certified land.

Both countries are investing in research and development for organic production and in promoting organics to the public, which is vital. To capitalise on the organic market returning to growth, and to sustain it for the future, we need retailers and policy makers to get behind our producers with visible commitments to a sustainable organic future.

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Environment

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