Organic food: Boosted by Coronavirus

Working from home, closed gyms, a lot of free time – the pandemic has a big impact on our everyday life. That not only leads to a demand for home workout videos, but also results in a significant increase in sales of organic food.

It takes forever to get into the supermarket, let alone to get out again. Additionally, the person behind you doesn’t take it very seriously with social distancing and you can feel the warm breath in your neck. An unpleasant shiver runs down your spine. That is the moment you decide: this was the last time in a supermarket.

Situations like that might be one reason why the coronavirus pandemic is leading to a surge in demand for organic and sustainable foods. Across the globe retailers are experiencing huge sales increases for organic products, according to a recent study from Ecovia Intelligence.

Online retailers are reporting their highest sales growth. Whole Foods Market, for example, the world’s largest natural food retailer, had to limit the number of online customers because of the huge demand. Abel & Cole in the UK reported a 25% increase in sales while Nourish Organic, an Indian online retailer, had a 30% sales increase.

But also physical retailers are benefiting from the trend. In France for example, some organic shops are reporting sales increases of over 40%. Amy van den Broek, shop coordinator at Dublin Food Co-operative can confirm these developments for her business. “Our sales started climbing towards the end of February/ early March due to panic buying”, she says. 

With often empty shelves in supermarkets at the beginning of the pandemic, people switched to smaller, local shops. In the Dublin Food Co-operative, cleaning products, and chilled products such as fresh milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables were in particular demand. 

But crowded supermarkets are just one reason why more and more people are going organic. Van den Broek knows from her customers that sometimes it was just the convenience of having a shop nearby. “But also the fact that food shops were the only shops open to “browse” in, and buy something nice.”.

She also has customers, who started prioritising their health during the pandemic, after finding time to dedicate to it. Therefore, COVID-19 is raising consumer awareness of their relationship between nutrition and health.

Amarjit Sahota, the CEO of Ecovia Intelligence, told FoodNavigator, that every time there is a health scare, like COVID-19 or SARS, people look at disease prevention and improving their nutrition. Organic foods in general are being seen as safer and healthier than conventional food. 

That is because organic foods avoid synthetic pesticides and agro-chemicals, and therefore have less chemicals than conventional food. According to Sahota there are also studies showing that organic foods have more nutrients. Consumers therefore buy organic foods as they are considered safer and more nutritious than conventional foods. When people start buying organic food during a pandemic, they are looking to improve their overall health for disease prevention.

According to findings of the Al-powered food intelligence startup Tastewise, which tracks online consumer engagement, the word “immunity” in the context of food searches rose by 27% between February 2019 and March 2020. 

However, the popularity of organic products is nothing new. According to the Organic Trade Association, the organic sales in the U.S. already hit a record in 2019, up 5% from the previous year. This development has been intensified by the pandemic and is expected to remain strong, even after things slowly get back to normal. 

“We expect our daily sales to reduce slightly”, says van den Broek. “We have seen a reduction already since restrictions were lifted in the last few weeks.” 

With the shift to more flexible working hours the organic shop hopes to keep certain “new” customers with them. “But it will be a challenge for sure for next year.”

Pauline Stahl
Pauline Stahl