Designer Organics

I read a depressing but unsurprising little story in this morning’s paper: people are responding to the impending recession but cutting back on purchases of organic food. Organic food sales are slowing if not falling. Organic food is more expensive than ‘ordinary food’ and people are trying to save money where they can.

It was only a stub of a story, so it didn’t begin to address the price differential the supermarkets charge for ‘organic’ branded goods (some goods which are in fact organic, but not branded as such, are the same price as their non-organic competition).

The article went on to quote some ‘expert’ who said (I paraphrase somewhat) that when times got tough, people adjusted their priorities and that organic food was a fashion statement many people could no longer afford. Besides, the expert added, ‘people now have so many different ways to shop ethically: not just organic, but also fair trade and locally grown’.

Are these principles no more than brands, like Tesco’s ‘Finest’ or Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Difference’? People are trading down their £10 organic chickens for £3 factory-farmed fowl as if the £7 difference were just the cuddly image.

It’s understandable behaviour if you have been shopping at the ridiculously expensive Borough Market or some of the other farmers’ markets and up-market ‘organic retailers’ in London. Three quid for four decidedly average tomatoes. A 500g bag of ‘hand-made’ muesli for £7! Hand-made? Is there any other kind?

This is the ‘M&S Food’ syndrome at its worst.

An enterprising villager did a bit of research at our local farmers’ market and showed that you can buy food that is locally produced, organic and fairly traded for less than ‘ordinary’ food at the supermarket. My friends who come down to visit are always surprised at how much cheaper the fruit and vegetables are at the farm shop than at their local supermarket.

Perhaps now people are feeling a little poorer, they will look a little more closely at what they are getting for their money. The organic retailers may need a different strategy now the Emperor can’t afford his new clothes.

* * *

P.S. My review of the shelves of my local Co-Op indicates that both the tastiest and the cheapest muesli on the shelves, gram for gram, is the Dorset Cereals range, even though it’s organic (I think) and definitely marketed at the Waitrosey fashionista. It’s a bit rich in fruit and nuts for me, so I eke it out with an extra third again of oats (which makes it cheaper still – although not as cheap as a bowl of hot porridge).

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~ by jobes on November 24, 2008.

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