The EU’s organic market is dynamic and moving beyond a niche sector. In 2020, it recorded growth of 15.1%, reaching 44.8 billion euros, making it the second largest market after the US. Areas of farmland under organic production grew to 14.9 million hectares and producers increased by 1.6% to 349,4999.
Innovative organic food farming, policy support, and consumer demand for sustainable and high-quality organic production are factors positively contributing to growth. These growth rates differ between countries, with Germany and France, for instance, relatively similar in development until the Covid-19 pandemic.
Charts displayed at the panel discussion, titled ‘Germany and France: how do Europe’s leading organic markets find their way back to growth?’, compared the growth of German and French organic markets side by side between 2014 and 2022. Both markets reflect the dynamic growth highlighted above in 2020 but also show the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Growth continued in France under the Covid-19 crisis and in Germany the market accelerated, according to Burkhard Schaer, director of Ecozept, a German-French based consulting and research agency. By the end of Covid-19 in 2021, France experienced its first slowdown and then a significant decrease in 2022. A similar pattern was observed in Germany.
Transform the agricultural sector to see changes in organic markets
Significant improvements to the entire agri-food sector could have a trickle-down effect helping organic markets recover. Under the Green Deal’s Farm to Fork strategy the European Commission has set a target for a minimum of 25% of agricultural land to be under organic farming by 2030.
Jan Plagge, president of Bioland the largest organic food association in Germany, said: “We need to be aware that, when we think about growth or slowdown, [it’s different] within the organic movement. I always tell my employees, ‘please don’t measure our success against growth or other aspects’. Our task is to transform the food and agricultural sector and when organic is growing then the intensity is reduced, the density of husbandry and we also try to reach a higher quality in animal welfare.”
An agricultural focus will change the sector swiftly but careful consideration of the entire value chain, looking at farmers, intermediaries and lastly the consumer, could offer lasting change. Bioland members want to know how to win consumers over and how they can make consumers buy the products that will be produced and cultivated in an organic way, said Plagge.
Organic growth: create demand, stimulate the market, and inform the consumer
The French organic market more than doubled between 2007 and 2012. There had been a lack of organic products for a number of years, which created an emphasis on developing the retail market and production, said Laure Verdeau, director of Agence BIO, the French agency for the development and promotion of organic farming.
“In France we were entirely focused on offer [supply], we wanted to develop, we had one [key performance indicator] KPI in mind and it was hectares. We wanted the percentage of organic production to increase, and it happened to be quite a weakness because suddenly at the end of Covid, production decreased," said Verdeau.
The future of farming is complex in France. Many farmers want to become organic but with decreasing markets, the timing may be unfavourable. By 2030, there will also be a huge reduction of farmers in France unless new talent is attracted to the profession.
“We have new profiles that are not from farming families that want to become farmers; they say, ‘ok, we are going to be the new generation and we are going to be organic’. The field farmers are pushing and wanting to go organic but key players are saying, ‘just wait because the market is going down’. We cannot wait and see, and we cannot refuse them to go organic,” added Verdeau.
An approach to encourage growth in France could stem from promoting organic and educating the consumer. “You have so many people – one out of two – that don’t know anything about organic,” said Verdeau.
With a lack of growth, there are many turning this around. “We have a real situation now, we need to create the market, to stimulate the demand. For years, the organic sector [has been quiet] and convinced the consumer they were buying more and more,” she added.
“The generalist retailer helped to democratise the market but every year when we ask 4,000 French people, our representatives, ‘how are you doing with organic?’; ‘Can you tell us more about your food consumption?’, they don’t understand why it's so expensive. There is a lack of confidence and trust [...] Why? If we want to be in a food democracy, we need citizens to be informed.”