Many column inches have been given over lately (in between swine flu and MPs’ expenses) to ’the demise of organics’. According to an oft-quoted TNS report, organics generally were down 1% despite spiralling inflation, while bread sales allegedly fell by 29%. Gloomy reading? As owner of a 100% organic bakery, I’d like to say: not a bit of it. Because it’s just not something that we’re seeing, from where we’re sitting. (Not that you ever do much sitting, as such, in a bakery.)
First off, though, let’s put this alleged ’sales slip’ in context. You may or may not know that I am co-founder of Green & Black’s, which my husband Craig Sams and I launched in 1991. Back then, the organic market in total was worth £100m. Today, less than 20 years on and even despite the supposed ’slip’, the organic market is worth over £2bn. Would someone like to show me another category of food that has grown so exponentially, over the last two decades, notching up sales increases of not less than 30%, each year? Hmm. Thought not.
So actually, organic is a huge success story. And frankly if you asked me to look into my crystal ball and work out where those bread sales falls are coming from, it’s probably the bog-standard sliced everyday supermarket loaves. What organic has to do is deliver a taste or quality dividend. If it’s like-for-like, yes, it’s harder to persuade customers of the ’hidden’ (but very good) reasons for buying organic - no pollution of the waterways, fewer greenhouse gas emissions from organic farming than conventional, no pesticide residues, no health-threatening hydrogenated fat, or E-numbers - I could go on... But there’s now an expectation, which Judges Bakery is certainly tapping into, that organic should be better than the non-organic rivals. That it should be made with a better quality of flour, relying on time (not large quantities of bread improvers or loads of yeast), and result in a loaf like the amazing organic sourdoughs, baguettes and spelt loaves that come out of our bakery. Even our ’everyday’ bread doughs are left to rise at least overnight, if not for 24 hours - which makes for better flavour, as well as keeping power. At Judges, we’re organic because we believe it’s the way all food should be - and most certainly will be, when the true carbon footprint of industrial agriculture is built into the price of food.
So, as long as bakers - and supermarkets - realise that organic needs to be synonymous with higher quality, the market will keep on growing. But try to feed people boring organic factory bread? Why should all but the most enlightened, eco-aware customer bother? That’s the sector of the market that’s suffered, when you scratch beneath that 29% drop. And having seen plenty of utterly ordinary, underwhelming, loaves - bread which frankly gives ’organic’ a bad name - I’m frankly not even a teensy bit sorry.