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Organic food: A seismic shift in consumer choice

Abdur Razzak Sohel with Mohammad Nahian
25 Nov 2021 00:00:00 | Update: 25 Nov 2021 00:11:24
Organic food: A seismic shift in consumer choice

With the growing awareness about the significance of organic food, more and more consumers are turning to find out where the food comes from and how it is grown – all that has given rise to a new market of organic food products.

Amid the flood of chemical-processed food, health nuts are going organic to ensure nutrition security even though additive and pesticide-free items are pricy.

Sensing the pulse of the health conscious individuals, organic food makers including many a new start-up are capitalizing on the situation and the market is ballooning.

According to the data of Department of Agricultural Extension 37,422 metric tonnes of pesticides were used in the last fiscal year across the country. In addition, the survey data of Save the Environment Movement conducted in 2013 found 94 per cent mangoes and 100 per cent blackberries and litchis soaked in formalin.

Talking to The Business Post, Arif Sarder, an organic consumer said organic item is chemical-free, and it is not harmful to health. Besides, such foods taste better than their conventional peers.

“The availability of organic food in local market is another reason for my fondness towards it,” added the consumer.

The growing trend of e-commerce, f-commerce and lifestyle changes adds to such natural food consumption witnessing nearly 15 per cent annual growth.

Besides, the government focus on nutrition security and safe food production after achieving food security is also pushing the market up, according to the sector people.

Currently, organic products including vegetables, fruits, dairy, dried vegetables, fruit juice, fish, instant food, healthcare products, baby food, soymilk, soy food, food supplements, nutrition supplements are available in the market.

According to Bangladesh Organic Products Manufacturers Association, some 28,494 acres of land are being cultivated for organic farming; besides, around 600 members are involved in the business.

Kazi and Kazi Tea Estate Limited, Organic Bangladesh Ltd, Shauly Agro Ltd, Shams Enterprise, Chita Organic Foods, Karatoa Agro Services, Northern Agro Products Ltd, Mamun Agro Services Ltd are key market players that are cutting a good figure in the new trend of business not only in home but also abroad.

Proprietor of Mohine Organic Foods Md Mahmudul Hasan said due to an increase in the use of chemicals in foods, consumers are gradually in search of organic segment.

“Currently, we are supplying more than seven organic items. Of them, mustard oil, ghee, coconut oil are regular and more demandable ones,” said Mohine, also a business graduate from a US college.

“Monthly, we sell around 2000 to 2200 litres of mastered oil and 120 to 130 kilogrammes of ghee.”

Rakibul Islam, online executive of Organic Online Bangladesh, mentioned that they are selling 300 items of organic products including honey, ghee, oil, rice and spices.

“The demand for our organic products is rising by 15 per cent per annum as we strictly follow organic criteria,” he claimed, adding that basically educated and health conscious individuals, plus the wealthy are main customers of such food. MyOrganicBd Founder and CEO Mohammad Shariful Alam Pavel made an assertion that currently their organic product business is doing much better than any other times as its demand is on the rise.

To explain in detail, he said: “Our fruits and honey are mainly procured through contract farming. They are also imported from abroad.”

Organic businessman Rezwan Chowdhury, who is the founder of Krishan Bari, went to the extent of saying that they consider their business as a dedicated service to the customers.

“Our organic food store is gaining popularity among consumers due to reputation. The growth rate is 10 per cent per annum. Apart from our physical store we sell online and provide service all over the country,” Rezwan continued.

Organic food criteria

According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, organic agriculture is a holistic production management system that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizer, pesticides and genetically modified organisms, minimizes pollution of air, soil and water, and optimizes health and productivity of interdependent communities of plants, animals and people.

“The non-use of external agriculture inputs which results in natural resources degradation (e.g. soil nutrient mining) does not qualify as organic,” it said.

According to Bangladesh Organic Production Manufacturing Association, five criteria are mainly required for organic farming. First, the land has to be chemical-free for at least three years. Second, ten metres of land need to be chemical-free. Third, fertilizer must be eco-friendly. Fourth, irrigation should be safe as well. Fifth, seeds have to be organic.

Factors shaping purchase tendency

As per the research data titled “Organic Food in Bangladesh and how do different customers react to organic food market” published on ResearchGate on 2015 explained that gender, age, education and income level all influence the decision to purchase organic food. The research found that regular consumers of organic food tend to be of higher social strata, affluent and educated.

Organic products going overseas

The organic products have found niche in the global market including America, England, Japan and many other European countries. Some major items including cashew nuts, tea, sweet potatoes, fishes and soybean, vegetables and fruits are mainly on the export inventory.

The founder of organic food association Abdus Salam said he came up with a fresh agreement with a Japanese client to export cashew nuts, soybean and sweet potatoes worth Tk 680 crore from next year.

According to Ajbinur Islam, manager of Kazi and Kazi Tea Estate Limited, they are exporting green tea to nearly 12 countries. “The demand for our products is increasing in both domestic and global markets as we maintain organic farming,” he said.

As per the data of Globe Newswire, the global organic food market was valued at $ 167.85 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $ 368.94 billion by 2026.

The global organic food market is mainly driven by increasing health concern among people due to the growing number of chemical poisoning cases, awareness about the harmful effects of pesticide residues in food and its impact on health, government support through various subsidies, and increasing trend of standardization for organic foods.

Why organic food?

The ResearchGate data said organic foods reduce health risks as it has higher vitamin and mineral contents.

The European Parliamentary Research Service data found that consumers of organic food tend to have healthier dietary patterns. Such food consumption may reduce the risk of allergic disease and of overweight and obesity.

Similar observations were made by another survey conducted by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.

It said there is a significant positive outcome of organic food including reducing incidence of infertility, birth defects, allergic sensitization, pre-eclampsia, metabolic syndrome, high BMI and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Dr Sheikh Nazrul Islam, director, Institute of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Dhaka, opined that the products of using fertilizers have long-term impact on human health. “We have to focus on decreasing the use of fertilizer and eco-friendly fertilizer should be sued,” suggested the expert.

Challenges facing the sector

Though organic food market is gradually expanding here, there is no monitoring over it, and many unscrupulous traders are cashing in on the situation and duping their customers.

Organic growers, organisers and sellers are scattered. Besides, consumers have also lack of trust in such products.

Md Mahmudul Hasan, owner of Mohine Organic Foods, said consumers are sometimes cheated by some rogue businesses.