French organic food sales rise 25 pct in 2008

PARIS (Reuters) - Sales of organic food in France jumped 25 percent last year and more than 60 percent in three years to reach 2.6 billion euros, France’s organic association “Agence Bio” said on Friday.

Organic vegetables are shown at a Whole Foods Market in LaJolla, California in this May 13, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files

It did not give any forecast for 2009 but has said it expected the French organic food sector to continue growing, although maybe at a slower rate, as more consumers seek to avoid pesticides and genetically-modified organisms.

The government is also encouraging organic food in schools and restaurants.

“Today, organic products are present everywhere, in all distribution and consumption channels,” it said.

The agency did not provide data for 2006 but said the rise in organic food sales between 2005 and 2007 was 26 percent.

However, the share of organic food in total food sales was still thin at 1.7 percent in 2008, against 1.1 percent in 2007.

To meet swelling demand, farmers increasingly switched to organic agriculture with the land devoted to organic food nearly tripling in nine years to 580,000 hectares, against 210,000 hectares in 1999, Agence Bio said.

Growth rates in most major organic food markets, such as the United States, Germany or Britain, have weakened in recent months as countries have been hit by the economic downturn.

But in many countries the trend had already started in 2008.

Britain’s Soil Association said in a report last month that sales of organic products in the UK had slowed to 1.7 percent in 2008, well below the average annual growth rate of 26 percent over the last decade.

In Italy, purchases of packaged organic foods with bar codes rose by 5.4 percent in value in 2008, down from a 10.2 percent growth in 2007, according to a survey of Italian families released in February.

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Editing by Peter Blackburn