The organic market is stagnating – or is it? – Business

The organic market is stagnating – or is it?  – Business

At times it sounded as if they were encouraging themselves and their people. As if they were irritated and optimistic at the same time. When top representatives of the organic industry talk about the development of their business in Germany at the start of the world’s leading trade fair Biofach in Nuremberg, they avoid the nasty word “stagnation” and instead use the term “stable”. You could also have put it this way: The organic industry didn’t really get off the ground in 2023. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the year-long upward trend, which was abruptly stopped in 2022 by exorbitantly high inflation, will come to a permanent standstill. The truth is, as so often, more complicated.

To get closer to it, it’s worth taking a look at the numbers. Sales of organic products in Germany rose by five percent to 16 billion euros last year. Butter, meat substitute products and vegetables in particular were purchased less than in 2022, and cheese, meat and sausage products more frequently. “The organic market is getting back to its old form, at least,” said Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir, commenting on the figures. In fact, the 16 billion is a new record, but it is “almost entirely due to higher prices,” said Diana Schaack, market analyst at the agricultural market information company AMI. The amount of organic food sold, however, remained at the previous year’s level. Incidentally, they are increasingly rarely bought in specialist natural food stores; Discounters and drugstores in particular are increasing significantly with their organic ranges and account for 40 percent of sales.

Fewer companies cultivate more land

The question of whether and how organic farming is progressing in this country is similarly differentiated. One in seven farmers is an organic farmer, a total of around 36,500. However, the number of organic farms fell by one percent in 2023. However, the total area cultivated organically grew by 4.3 percent to 1.94 million hectares. So fewer organic farms cultivated more land. According to a numbers game by the Federation of Organic Food Industry (BÖLW), an area equivalent to 300 football fields in Germany was converted from conventional cultivation to organic in 2023. By the way, mainly grain and fodder were grown. Every fifth fruit area and 14 percent of the vineyards in this country are organic according to the applicable criteria.

Overall, the organic share of agriculture in Germany is almost twelve percent and many agricultural experts expect it to continue to rise in the long term. But we are a long way from the ambitious goals of the federal government and the EU. By 2030, a quarter of agricultural land in the European Union should be farmed organically. The continent has currently only cleared the ten percent hurdle. Austria is the only EU country that is already above 25 percent; for Estonia, Sweden, Portugal, Italy and Greece the goal at least still seems achievable. Not so much for twelve percent Germany. This particularly applies to the plan of the federal government, which has set an even more ambitious target in its coalition agreement, namely 30 percent by 2030. In order to generally increase the organic share to this mark by then, there is still a lot to be done and, above all “To get rid of hurdles,” admitted Minister Özdemir in Nuremberg. He didn’t say what exactly.

Tina Andres definitely has her ideas. Politicians must finally “spend the money that is needed for this transformation,” said the CEO of the industry umbrella organization BÖLW. “Clear political targets” are needed, but the course of the traffic light “meanders too much”. The BÖLW boss made a counter-calculation: According to a survey by the Boston Consulting Group, the ecological follow-up costs of what she sees as a misguided agricultural policy amount to 90 billion euros. Not to mention the strain on the health system caused by unhealthy diets and climate change. “Our agricultural and food system is currently responsible for 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Andres. “That’s why – as with the energy transition – the restructuring of food production and consumption finally requires political determination and resources that do justice to this dimension.”

Agriculture Minister Özdemir appears to be concerned that ecological criteria, for example in the areas of fertilizer or animal welfare, will be weakened or thrown overboard out of shock in view of the ongoing farmers’ protests. He warned against “outright rejection of everything that has to do with protecting our natural resources.” Some people “apparently cannot imagine what kind of burden agriculture will face if we don’t take precautions now,” he said. And then there is the clear trend that has been determined demographically, which not least plays into the hands of the organic industry: “Consumers want a more sustainable agriculture and food industry.”

Stagnation or stability – in view of all this, the organic industry gathered in Nuremberg – a total of 2,550 exhibitors from almost 100 countries – is by no means despondent, but rather confident. She is currently looking for new sales opportunities, of which out-of-home catering seems to be one. People in Germany eat 40 million meals every day in canteens, cafeterias, daycare centers, homes or hospitals. The organic share of this is two percent – so there is a lot of room for improvement. And when it comes to purchasing behavior, there is still room for improvement. Statistically, every Dane spends 369 euros per year on organic products, 287 euros every Austrian and 441 euros every Swiss. The German saves 184 euros in this regard.

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