Emerging opportunities in organic supply chains (Organised by OCW)

The first part of this session aimed to look at how the growth of the Catering Mark could mean significant and exciting opportunities for organic producers, and how farmers and growers can get involved. The second part set out to examine new platforms such as ‘Farm Drop’ and how a growing Community Supported Agriculture movement is opening up new possibilities for innovative short supply chain systems.

Tony Little (Organic Centre Wales): Chair

Session summary

The session provided an overview of new marketing opportunities for organic growers, including an update on progress in current and new routes to market. Emma Rose (Soil Association) began by providing an update on the development of the Soil Association’s Food for Life Catering Mark highlighting that there has been an increase of over 10% in sales of organic food through food service over the last 12 months. Emma also highlighted that increasing numbers of producers are moving up to ‘Silver’ and ‘Gold’ certification within the scheme, and that within these categories the proportion of spend on organic food is required. Ben Pugh then presented an overview of the online platform Farm Drop. Ben provided an outline of the platform and how it is making local, organic food more accessible and affordable by providing a direct link between consumers and growers via the website. Ben highlighted that the company is growing and will soon be able to offer deliveries and pick ups in more areas of London and beyond. Gareth Davies (CSA Network UK) then outlined the benefits and some of the risks associated with setting up a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project citing examples from the development of Canalside Community Food and Five Acre Farm. Gareth suggested that land partnerships can offer a suitable way for farmers and growers to set-up a CSA on a tight budget, as they can allow for sharing of assets (e.g. machinery) and branding. In addition these partnerships can allow for members of the community to have greater access to land.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Some felt that the catering mark’s bronze requirement was too low, as this has no requirement for organic food, however Emma Rose made the point that local authorities are incredibly tightly squeezed for funding and so making the point of entry achievable is important.
  • CSAs are a viable option even on a limited budget, if multiple stakeholders (e.g. tenants, community members, local authorities) are willing to work together and communicate effectively. However is never going to make anyone a lot of money!
  • The development of online marketing platforms such as Farm Drop can present a very useful option of farmers and growers who wish to engage with a wider group of customers. In particular the flexibility that these channels can provide (e.g. taking on larger ‘gluts’ or produce and making up for deficits from individual producers by having a wide producer base) makes them an attractive option.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Emma Rose (Soil Association): Food For Life Catering Mark – A growing opportunity for organic producers (1.72mb pdf file)

I will be talking about the routes to market for organic producers through the Catering Mark, and how this scheme has already had a positive impact on the organic industry. Sales of organic through foodservice have increased by 10% over the last year; and caterers are increasingly moving up to Silver and Gold where organic spend is recognised and required. I will also outline how producers can get involved through the Catering Mark Supplier Scheme.

Ben Pugh (Farm Drop): Four reasons why the future is bright for organic producers’ food
  1. Online grocery sales in the UK will have doubled by 2019 driven by mobile broadband internet, enjoyed by 72% of UK citizens. Even though 80% of UK grocery sales go through the tills of only 5 companies, e-commerce has made the UK food retail market wide open.
  2. The importance of authenticity and provenance is going up. As the horse meat scandal of 2013 and ’the great boycott of Monsanto’ in 2014 exemplify, internet access is helping to drive a structural consumer shift towards ‘honest’ produce.
  3. Nutritional understanding. Over recent decades the percentage of smokers has halved whilst obesity has doubled. Meanwhile smoking and diet related illnesses cost the NHS roughly £6bn each year and yet the government collects £12bn a year from the tobacco industry but nothing from producers of unhealthy food. As the government rectifies this obvious imbalance the popularity of healthy organic produce will increase.
  4. Disintermediation. As people become more aware of the importance of higher quality food to good health, its demand will continue to increase along with consumer efforts to access it cost effectively directly.
Gareth Davies (CSA Network UK): Short supply chains – Growing the CSA movement in the UK (1.6mb pdf file)

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is the intentional creation of community around food growing and is a business model in which the risks and the rewards of farming are shared between the grower and members of the community. The talk will outline the risks and rewards of CSA and briefly discuss some of the different models applicable in the UK which span a wide range of types, scales and sizes of production. CSA is an autonomous movement in the UK and depends crucially on networking for mutual support. A CSA network is being established which seeks to provide information and support to CSAs and which will help grow the movement in the UK. Because community is embedded at the heart of CSA it is uniquely placed to re-engage people in agriculture, local food and in the seasonal farming calendar. It is also well placed to further engage people in issues of food sovereignty, climate change and transition technologies; all at the heart of the major challenges to food production in the coming century.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *