Consumers increasingly demand food free from chemical additives and the residues of chemical pesticides.
UK shoppers are increasingly switching to a safer, more natural shopping basket even though organic and fair-trade products are generally a bit more expensive.
Research on 432 shoppers across the major supermarkets found that just over two-thirds claimed their purchasing behaviour had changed significantly in the past ten years.
In particular, spending habits had shifted towards buying more free range (46 percent), more fair trade (42 percent), more locally sourced food (32 percent), and more organic and less processed foods (32 percent). So in the UK the numbers of shoppers choosing organic and fair trade products are slowly increasing.
In the US, however, a study by TABS Group, a Connecticut-based marketing, research and consulting firm in the consumer products industry found that despite a lot of media attention and increased grocer interest in stocking organic food there has actually been no growth in the number of U.S. consumers who buy such products, between 2008 and 2009.
According to TABS Group president and founder Dr. Kurt Jetta the usage results for its 2009 study were remarkably similar to the results 2008 with 38% of adults claiming to have purchased anything from the major organic categories in the last six months: “Identical to last year.”
The study found that organic fresh fruit had the highest purchase incidence, at 26 percent, with organic fresh vegetables close behind, at 25 percent. Seventeen percent and 16 percent of respondents, respectively, said they bought organic dairy products, eggs and milk.
Nevertheless, considering that these surveys took place in the thick of a global economic crisis with massive impact on consumer spending power, these figures suggest consumers buying organic account for roughly a third of food purchasing “” surely not an insignificant number?
Can food be cheap and healthy?
Particularly in the developed world, however, consumers have been “educated” by the big superstores to expect food to be cheap and many of the big players now offer “budget-priced” own-brand cheaper options, particularly attractive during a recession. But what do we know about the quality of these products? And at what cost to the already-pressurised profit margins for farmers?
As more of the old chemical fertilisers and pesticides are banned by food standards agencies around the world is there an answer to these seemingly contradictory pressures between cost and quality?
Biopesticides point the way forward
Biopesticides are derived from natural materials like animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. For example, garlic, mint, neem, papaya and baking soda all have pesticidal applications and are considered biopesticides.
Biopesticides are therefore less harmful than conventional chemical pesticides and have the advantage of generally targeting one specific pest or a small number of related pests in contrast to broad spectrum chemical pesticides which affect, apart from the pest, other beneficial insects, birds and mammals.
They have generally lower toxicity levels, decompose quickly and thus do not cause the kind of environmental problems associated with chemical pesticides.
Used as part of Integrated Pest Management programs (for example with bio fungicides or biological control of insects by using their natural enemies to feed on them ) biopesticides can greatly reduce the use of conventional pesticides without compromising crop yields.
Marcus Meadows-Smith, CEO of AgraQuest, a leading US-based company specialising in researching low-chem “” or biological – agricultural products and their development, believes it is not right for farmers to have to compromise on yield and profitability as older, more toxic pesticides are getting banned, leaving gaps in their portfolios.
He says biopesticides now account for $ 1 billion (638.5 million) of the global $ 40bn agrochemical market and over the next 10 years the biopesticides, or low-chem, market is expected to grow to $ 10bn.
And that could be good news for farmers, the quality of their land, and for health and price conscious consumers.