Between hype and future solution: the organic wave is rolling

Organic products enjoy a good reputation. But are environmentally friendly products really one step ahead in terms of flavour, health and sustainability? MPULSE offers an overview of the organic jungle.

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All hype?

What´s it all about?

  • What is behind the organic trend?
  • Facts and figures about organic food
  • Is organic food healthier, more sustainable and tastier?
Potatos

Organic is booming: although there was a slight dip in 2022, sales of organically produced goods in Germany reached a new record of around €16 billion in 2023 - around 5% more than in the previous year, reports the German Federation of the Organic Food Industry (BÖLW). Sales hits include eggs, vegetables and fruit. Demand is also high internationally: Across Europe, an overall increase in sales of 18% was recorded in the period from 2019 to 2022.

According to Ökobarometer 2022, German consumers have three main reasons for buying organic food: species-appropriate animal husbandry, food that is as natural as possible and regionality. Respondents also want a healthy diet, fewer additives and less pesticide residue.

Organic own brands for gastro-professionals

Retailers and wholesalers often offer organically produced goods under their own brand. METRO, for example, has more than 500 organic products in its own-brand range worldwide - of which the wholesaler has developed around 100 items internationally and around 400 regionally.

Orientation

If you want to buy organic goods, you are faced with a variety of different terms - from "close to nature" to "environmentally friendly" to "untreated". However, according to EU regulations, only foods that meet the minimum standards of organic farming may be labelled as "organic" or "bio". The products in question bear the EU organic label on the packaging - a stylised leaf on a green background. In Germany, manufacturers can voluntarily add the hexagonal German organic label. The key features of both logos are the absence of synthetic chemical pesticides and artificial fertilisers as well as animal welfare.

There are also many other labels, for example from organic farming associations such as Bioland or Demeter, which have stricter requirements in some areas than the EU organic standard. Worldwide, the "Organic" label awarded by the US Department of Agriculture. The The organic standards of the USA and the EU are recognised as equivalent by both sides. However, there are differences: for example, the use of antibiotics in organic livestock farming is prohibited in the USA. In Europe, on the other hand, they are permitted under certain conditions, for example if alternative therapies are unsuccessful. 

Organic food

There is much to suggest that organic products are a good choice from a health perspective. For example, the Federal Centre for Nutrition (BZFE) emphasises that the products are comparatively low in pesticides. What's more: "Because they contain less water, organic apples, potatoes and the like contain more nutrients. They also tend to provide more vitamin C and are significantly richer in secondary plant substances (antioxidants), which protect against cancer and cardiovascular diseases."

However, many studies come to different conclusions. For example, a study by the Stanford University found no clear evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or pose a lower health risk. The science magazine "Quarks" says that a balanced diet is ultimately the decisive factor: "In general, a diet with lots of fruit and vegetables is better for your health than relying solely on organic products. Incidentally, instead of worrying about pesticide residues in your food, you should focus on bacteria and fungi: Organic produce is just as susceptible to these as conventional food."

A matter of taste

Many consumers swear by the flavour of organic apples and the like. But does organic really taste better? The BZFE says: "Because organic farmers do not use easily soluble synthetic fertilisers, fruit and vegetables grow a little more slowly. A nice side effect: it contains up to 20 % less water, so it often tastes more intense and has a better texture."

In contrast, blind tastings by Stiftung Warentest showed that "products with the organic logo taste just as good or mediocre as those without." The testers found very tasty products in both product groups: black olives and ham, for example, were convincing among the organic foods, while young Gouda cheese and smoked trout fillet were among the favourites among conventional products.

Sustainable

At least in terms of the environment and climate protection, organic products should be one step ahead, right? For many experts it’s clear: organic farming minimises nitrate pollution in rivers, lakes and groundwater. Furthermore, by using organic fertiliser and rotating the crops they grow, organic farmers promote humus formation and soil fertility. Importantly, organic areas are also home to a greater diversity of species, with integrated hedgerows, ponds and meadow orchards providing habitats for a wide variety of plants and animals.

But there are also objections. There is some criticism of the use of copper as a pesticide in organic farming. Similarly, with regard to standards for livestock farming, the EU organic logo has no specific rules for the transport of animals, for example. In another example, a UK study deducted points for climate protection issues. It claimed that, as a result, a 100% move to organic farming in the UK would lead to a rise in CO2 emissions. This is because the lower productivity of organic farming means that, potentially, more food would have to be imported, thereby driving up greenhouse gas emissions. What is more, because of yields that may be lower under some circumstances, organic farming sometimes requires more acreage.

Conclusion

Conclusion: Organic is booming, but opinions differ when it comes to health, flavour and sustainability. Both organic and conventional products have strengths and weaknesses from case to case. The fact is: the organic trend shows that consumers are increasingly focussing on the origin the cultivation and quality of food - and appreciation for food and its production is important in any case.

FAQ

How high is the organic share of the overall food market?

Despite high demand, the organic share of the overall food market in Germany was only 6.3% in 2022. The highest share was in Denmark with 12%, followed by Austria with 11.5% and Switzerland with 11.2%

How high were sales of organic food in 2021 and 2022?

Sales of organic food reached a new peak of € 54.5 billion in Europe in 2021 and fell slightly to around € 53 billion in 2022.

How many products carried the German organic label in 2023?

In 2023, more than 105,000 products from around 7,000 companies carried the German organic seal.

How long has the German organic label been around?

In September 2026, the hexagonal German organic seal will be 25 years old.

How many organic farms are there in Germany?

In 2023, there were a total of 36,535 organic farms in Germany. That is around 14.3% of all farms.

To what percentage should the proportion of organic farmland in Germany be increased?

The Federal Government's aim is to increase the proportion of organic farmland from around 12% today to 30% by 2030.

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