In the midst of a growth crisis, the organic sector is wondering about its future

The euphoria gave way to the beginning of a hangover. After years of double-digit growth, the organic sector has been in trouble for a few months. For the first time, the sale of food products from organic farming experienced a slowdown last year with a decline of 1.3%, according to figures released in June by Agence Bio. This market contraction must of course be put into perspective in view of the overall 2.28% drop in household food consumption. But for 2022, the outlook looks even worse due to inflation.

In this context, the players in the sector are looking gloomy. A palpable gloom in the spans of the fair for organic professionals “The Earth is our job” which was held on Wednesday and Thursday in Retiers, south-east of Rennes. “We hit the wall head-on because the customers are not there”, recognizes Pascal Petit, technical manager at Bio Direct. In this group, which brings together a hundred organic pig farmers, sales have fallen “by 15 to 20% for seven or eight months”. “In 2020 during the confinements, we felt that people aspired to healthier and local consumption and turned to direct sales, he underlines. But this parenthesis has closed and people are now watching their wallets.

A crisis of growth but also of confidence

Inflation also penalizes industrialists in the sector such as Olga (formerly Triballat Noyal), which manufactures organic and vegetable dairy products. “We still have our “bio-convinced” customers, says Zoé Guyader, organic agricultural adviser at Olga. But it is certain that we have lost more volatile customers who have abandoned organic in recent months. Reputed to be more expensive, organic products therefore suffer from this surge in food prices. But this is not the only reason and the fall in consumption had also started long before the start of the war in Ukraine.

In crisis of growth, the organic sector is also experiencing a crisis of confidence, the small green AB logo having a little less popularity with consumers. For Sophie Chauvin, it was the waltz of logos and labels that disturbed customers. “We have seen the arrival in recent years of many greenwashing labels such as “High environmental value” or “Without pesticides” which may reassure customers but are much less virtuous than the organic label”, estimates the director of the Group of organic farmers ( GAB) of Morbihan.

“It’s just a temporary crisis”

In some sectors such as milk, organic is also experiencing a crisis of overproduction. “The demand is there but not enough to absorb all this production, which has doubled in a few years”, emphasizes Stéphane Boulent, organic farming adviser at the Chamber of Agriculture of Brittany. As the sky darkens, some players are beginning to wonder about the future. “If this does not improve, we can indeed fear for the sustainability of our sector”, indicates Pascal Petit.

Others are more optimistic like Sophie Chauvin, from the GAB. “It’s only a temporary crisis and I have no doubts about the fact that consumption is on the rise again,” she says. By dint of seeing their environment deteriorate, of seeing the climate get out of order, people will end up becoming definitively aware that the model we are defending is the right one. »

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