Soil Association Certification expands digital presence to support businesses

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Soil Association Certification is expanding its digital presence to support its licensees with a range of online resources, webinars and remote inspections, as they continue working round the clock to meet demand for organic products.

With the organic market set to surpass the £2.5bn sales mark by the end of the year Soil Association Certification is expanding its range of digital resources to ensure the organic sector is supported as we move to a new normal. In addition to launching the COVID-19 Support Hub Soil Association Certification is launching a brand new home delivery hub to support businesses that are moving from their usual distribution channels to sell direct to citizens.

Over the coming weeks Soil Association Certification will be sharing lots more resources including learnings from organic businesses and a wide range of webinars, panel discussions, articles and organic learning sessions, covering everything from managing your social media to building a brand in a crisis.

In addition to this wide range of online resources, the Certification body has also been offering remote inspections to ensure business runs smoothly for existing licensees and that they can continue to offer organic food with integrity to citizens at this time.

Despite the challenges facing the entire food and farming sector, many organic businesses have reported a surge in demand, with organic sales rising significantly in March and continuing to outperform non-organic. Processors supplying into supermarkets experienced a 25.6% increase in sales in March*.

The 2020 Organic Market Report revealed organic was already over performing in online shopping, with sales up 11.2% and overtrading at 13% of the channel; and the report predicted home delivery would account for 20% of the organic market by 2023 – but current trends mean this might accelerate even more rapidly.

Many citizens have already made significant changes to their lifestyles – such as cooking more, wasting less and placing a higher value on food – and the vast majority of Brits want to keep at least some of these changes after lockdown, according to a YouGov survey.

While purchases are currently focused on meeting the most basic needs, people are shopping more consciously, buying local and embracing digital to connect, learn, play and work from home.

Patrick O’Flaherty at Pip Organic, Soil Association Certification licensee, said: “Like most businesses supplying to the Hospitality Sector necessary restrictions have meant distribution has been dramatically reduced - however, our sales to multiple, independent and online retail have increased, with our online sales channels growing week on week, even as the food retail market returns to some degree of normality.

'In the first few weeks of lockdown we started a small scale local ‘pip juice’ box scheme which was so successful that we developed an online shop and we are now able to deliver most of our range to most addresses in mainland UK. The feedback and uptake from our customers has been fantastic and very encouraging.”

Clare McDermott, Business Development Director at Soil Association Certification, said, “Soil Association Certification is expanding its range of digital resources to ensure licensees are not only prepared to weather this crisis – but that they can continue to thrive in an increasingly digitalised world.

'We see digitalisation as core to our service – we’ve implemented technology-led remote inspections to ensure our existing clients can be inspected, maintaining integrity and their certification, and are supporting with new online routes to market and sharing best practice.

'We expect shoppers will continue buying organic from home delivery post Covid-19 as they continue to look for many of the benefits which organic products deliver on – natural, healthy and tasty food and drink that’s been sourced and farmed with care.”

With the impact of COVID-19 speeding up digitalisation across all aspects of our lives online selling has proved to be a very important distribution channel for many Soil Association Certification licensees.

Appetite for box schemes, which play to organic’s key strengths in promoting local-sourcing and sustainability, has grown rapidly, with traffic to Soil Association’s online box scheme and indie listings pages increasing by 900% in March and April compared to January and February.

Clare McDermott, Business Development Director at Soil Association Certification, continued, “Organic businesses have proven just how resourceful and innovative they can be in challenging times, working round the clock to feed the nation and create a positive impact - whether feeding key workers on their night shifts or producing and donating hand sanitizer to communities in need.

'We hope that these new online resources will allow organic businesses to network and share their invaluable knowledge more widely, as well as enabling the sector to optimise the online channel to continue reaching an engaged and loyal customer base.”