Research projects

Marketing of Organics

Contract Period : 01/06/2022 - 01/06/2024

Main Funder : John Pain

ORC Staff Contact : Rowan Dumper-Pollard

Organic veg stall at Lutterworth Farmers Market. Photo: Phil Sumption

The Marketing of Organics Project is a three-year ORC research programme, looking to identify clearer routes to growth in organic food supply chains and a better understanding of consumer perceptions of organic produce.

Project Leaders and Partners

  • ORC (project leader)
  • We are working collaboratively with many organisations to share results and reach more people

Project Aims

The UK organic market saw a growth of more than 9.5% in 2020, where the sector outperformed non-organic market growth by an average of 3% across different food types. As such, there is unrealised potential for the marketing of a wider range of organic products in the UK and to grow the share of organic in food retailing. The organic sector is also under-prepared for the transition from smaller “niche” market strategies towards being a significant presence in future mainstream food and drink retail. Currently in the UK, organic produce in mainstream retail is competing directly with cheaper, non-organic produce which presents numerous challenges for the organic sector and many pre-conceptions of the organic brand to be overcome. As such, we are engaged in a 2-year consumer-focused research to investigate what the main barriers and opportunities are to grow the UK organic market.

Building on existing literature, our approach is to situate the food consumer at the centre of a densely interconnected socio-technical system in order to better identify the full range of barriers to organic shopping they may face. For this we consider food shopping as an intersection between complex individual behavior and the social, political, technological and informational infrastructures that make up society. Doing so ensures our research goes beyond assumptions that unsustainable patterns of food consumption are the product of individual choice alone and allows a more comprehensive investigation into deeper levers for food system change. We identify four domains of influence over the consumer where barriers and enabling factors for food consumption choices are present:

  1. Biological influences – consider individual biological influences on everyday shopping choices. These factors are either fixed (e.g., allergies, limiting pathogen intake, instinctive disgust, and hunger, energy and nutritional needs) or evolving (e.g., palatability, neophobia, psychological and emotional characteristics), and all feature in the individual’s everyday consumption choices. Understanding the impact influences such as neophobia, or how a perception of food nutrition and palatability is formed at an individual level, can offer novel insights into why some food products are favoured over others.
  2. Social influences – are in reference to the individual’s relation to their immediate environment in which their food shopping takes place. Analysis at this level would consider the everyday practices and routines where food shopping might occur and what bearing this may have on the purchasing of organic and non-organic products. The analysis would also evaluate the personal traits and causes that are expressed in difference food consumption choices and whether the organic sector truly resonates with these.
  3. Domestic setting – refers to the individual’s positioning within the technological, economic, cultural and social structures that make up society and how this may determine food consumption choices. This could relate to the capital (economic, social and cultural) available to the individual as a result of their domestic setting, as well as the norms, values and what is generally considered as “fitting in” for a particular domestic setting. This level of analysis would also consider how the existing infrastructures of food production and supply influence what food is more readily available and to whom.
  4. Information flows – concerns factors impacting the flow of information about food. The information people receive and believe has a significant bearing over which consumption patterns are justified and reproduced. Systems of governance and law, the media, scientific and academic sources, and popular science all influence what the general public understand about food and sustainability.

At the Organic Research Centre we always look to adopt a holistic approach to research. We feel that for a research programme to offer a holistic approach to this field of study it must simultaneously acknowledge these four domains of influence on consumption choices. Tackling the issue of barriers to organic sector growth from many angles will enable a more detailed investigation and outputs that could benefit a wider range of stakeholder groups.

Current progress highlights

Project Update July 2023

Stakeholder Engagement Workshop held at Yeo Valley Farms – attended by OTB, Yeo Valley, Soil Association, Lucy MacLennan and John Pain – feeding into the survey design to ensure it has a relevance and use for the sector.

ORC's Role:

Leading the project

ORC Team involved with this project

Senior Organic Business and Markets Researcher