24 April 2006 | Helen Gilbert
Consumer power is forcing UK supermarkets to source the majority of organic produce from domestic producers.
According to the Soil Associations's annual supermarket survey, five of the eight main food retailers now source over three-quarters of key organic foods within the UK, compared to just two of the eight in 2003.
Waitrose, which has topped the association's league of best organic retailers since 2003, buys 89 per cent of its potatoes, apples, carrots, onions, pork, beef, chicken and lamb from UK farmers, as does Marks & Spencer. Sainsbury's sources 86 per cent of these products locally, Tesco 78 per cent and the Co-op 76 per cent.
Tesco now buys 74 per cent of its organic pork and 71 per cent of its organic beef from UK producers, compared to 58 per cent and 52 per cent respectively last year. Asda also sources 74 per cent of beef from the UK.
The report found the average availability of UK grown seasonal organic food staples had also risen from 72 per cent two years ago, to 82 per cent currently.
According to Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, positive consumer pressure is driving changes in purchasing patterns.
"Most, but not all, of the major supermarkets have raised their game in sourcing more seasonal, UK produced organic food thanks to persistent, public scrutiny from our supporters," Melchett said.
But it is often difficult, and impractical, to source locally, one major supermarket told supplymanagement.com.
A spokesperson for Asda said it was not always easy to source UK produce, particularly apples.
"Orchards take a number of years to come to fruition and organic orchards in the UK are limited so we have to go elsewhere to get them," he said.
In addition, 70 per cent of Asda's pork is sourced from Holland. "You might think that's terrible, but Holland is closer [to many stores] than some of our farms in Northern Ireland," he said.