Data from French industry body Agence Bio revealed that, as of 30 June, 51,490 French farmers and businesses operate in the organic sector. Of these 35,231 are organic producers and 16,259 are “downstream” companies. This participation rate represents an increase of 9.3% in just six months, Agence Bio noted.
In France, 6.5% of the country's total agricultural land is used for organic production. And increasing numbers of French farmers are adopting organic agricultural practices. “Nineteen new organic farms [were certified] every day for the first six months of 2017,” Agence Bio noted.
French consumption of organic products is also largely localised, with 71% of organic products consumed in France produced in the country. Excluding “exotic products” this figure rises to 81%. Country of origin consumption is an important issue in the French food sector and the country was the first to adopt mandatory country of origin labels in certain sectors - such as meat and dairy. The controversial move has been followed by other European countries, such as Italy and Greece, but its detractors argue that COOL undermine the EU single market.
Of the organic products that are imported to France, most are in the ambient grocery category and consist of items such as oils, spices, chocolate and sugar. The European Union accounts for “more than half of imports” and three-quarters of French organic exports are destined for member countries.
Demand growth supported by consumer attitudes
The French food sector is stepping up its organic production in response to growing consumer demand for organic products, the organisation observed.
During the first six months of 2017, organic sales increased by €500m year-on-year. The organic sector was worth €7bn in revenues for 2016, Agence Bio noted.
This growth was driven by sales of fruit and vegetables as well as other grocery items. Fruit and veg – the largest segment of the organic sector – increased sales by 12%. Sweet and savoury grocery, led by breakfast items, grew by 24% year-on-year.
Notably, Agence Bio said, growth was seen in large- and medium-sized outlets – hypermarkets, supermarkets and hard-discounters - where organic sales increased by 18% in the period. Online organic sales rose 31% but from a lower base. Sales in speciality organic stores were up by 12% - or €156m – in the six months.
Consumers are increasingly turning to the organic sector, with “close to” seven in ten shoppers buying organic items at least once a month and eight out of ten suggesting that the development of organic production is “important”.
The study found 92% of French people believe organic production helps to preserve the environment, 89% say that they are “more natural", 88% believe organic products have health benefits and 80% believe that the nutrients in organic products are “better preserved”.
Government-backed supply chain drive
Agence Bio said that it is participating in the French government’s investigation into the food sector, which was launched by President Emmanuel Macron in July.
The initiative - Les États généraux de l'alimentation (EGA) – has been divided into two areas. The first will look at value distribution in the supply chain. The second will examine how to develop a system that delivers “healthy, safe, sustainable and accessible food”.
Agence Bio said that it is working within this framework to “amplify the development of the organic sector” and support both organic agricultural producers and food processors.
The industry body is participating in a series of workshops that run until November.
The EGA initiative comes as Paris reduces funding to the organic sector. At the end of July, Minister of Agriculture Stéphane Travert revealed that the aid budget to help organic producers has been completely cut for the next three years.
Responding to the news, National Federation of Organic Agriculture (FNAB) denounced the decision as showing a "lack of political courage" in the face of the industrial agriculture and chemicals industries.