Chasing the organic dream

Sales of organic products are on the up — they grew 2.8% in the year to March 2014, reversing several years of decline, according to UK certifying body the Soil Association. But it’s a different story for wine.

Organic alcohol sales in supermarkets fell 9.7% last year according to Nielsen, dragged down by declines in organic wine. In the same period organic spirits and RTDs grew by 30%, and beers and ciders by 1%.

Soil Association Certification trade relations manager Lee Holdstock tells OLN: “The big drops in wine have pulled the overall figure down.

“It’s difficult to know why for sure. Recent changes in EU organic regulation around wine may offer some explanation. Organic wine can now be marketed as ‘organic’ finally, rather than just ‘made with organically grown’ grapes, but there is still some confusion and technical difficulty for the industry.”

The top reasons for consumers buying organic products in general are centred around health, benefits for nature and the environment, and animal welfare, according to the Soil Association.

Meanwhile, regular wine drinkers buy by grape variety first, then promotional offer and then country of origin, according to Wine Intelligence’s Vinitrac research.

Research director Juan Park tells OLN: “Organic has never been in the top 10 [reasons for choosing wine]. Many consumers tend to think wine is organic anyway, or they don’t understand exactly what is organic about organic wine. It tends to be a bit more expensive so there are still a few barriers to making it to the top.”

Rob Buckhaven, Torres brand manager at Fells, says: “We noticed that the growth in sales of organic wines took a hit when the economic situation got bad several years back, and it is only now that we are starting to see interest in the sector again.

“It seems that organic wines are a luxury people can’t afford when times are difficult. In essence, we see that people want their wine to be good quality first and if it happens to be organic too then this is a bonus, but not essential to the purchase choice. As the economy improves this could well change as people can afford to exercise their principles again.”

Mentzendorff managing director Andrew Hawes says: “Commercially, organic wines have not always been a success. This could be because the consumer is confused, or even suspicious, about some of the claims that have been made and are not always substantiated by what is in their glass.”

But there is room to grow. Holdstock says: “There is much more potential in this sub-category, as there is in any category which is under-penetrated. If the consumer is given the information they need to differentiate the product, and the price point and quality are right, then there is opportunity.”

Fells’ Buckhaven agrees: “The organic story needs to be told and explained as consumers aren’t necessarily aware of organic practices in winegrowing and winemaking.

“Organic wines tend to be sold in places where there is a way to tell that story, so we see most of the Torres organically grown wines sold through the independent retail sector, where wines can be hand-sold, and in the on-trade.

The Las Mulas wines are exclusive to Waitrose where they have a consumer keen on organics.”

Ehrmanns marketing manager Inma Lopez Cantos says: “Despite tough trading conditions and limited disposable income, consumers are still looking to spend wisely and ethically. Our sales of organic wines have increased by 18% in the past year, led by Stellar Organics. We’ve broadened our organic offering in the past year to include two new organic wines from Sicily — Ingeno Pinot Grigio and Ingeno Nero d’Avola, as well as having an organic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from Giesen.

“Organic wines can become mainstream, if, like fairly traded wines, they are sold on the merits of their quality, rather than their ethical or sustainable practices alone.”

Stefano Girelli of Feudo di Santa Tresa, which has just released an organic Fiano from Sicily, says: “The market is expanding gradually but constantly — not a big boom, but solid growth year on year. Biodynamic wine is about the same but slower.”

He believes organic wine could reach the mainstream — “it is just a question of time”.

Mark Walford, owner of Roussillon winery Le Soula, says: “Interest is growing among our mainly independent customers, often prompted by requests from their own customers. The wines can be more than a niche. Organic viticulture is the best way to look after the precious asset that is the vineyard.”

Mentzendorff ’s Hawes adds: “The most important aspect of any winemaking philosophy, such as organic or biodynamic, should be seen as a means to an end — the ultimate end should be making better wine, rather than being the end in itself.

“If we are making better wine as a result of following biodynamic practices — and I believe that we are — then it is also a fantastic bonus that we are working in harmony with nature. The consumer will understand and buy into this.”

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