Pandemic whets French appetite for organic, locally produced food

More than half of French people said they changed their eating habits over the last three years - and almost two-thirds of them have done so during the pandemic. [ArtemSh/Shutterstock]

The pandemic has changed the eating habits of the French, according to a report conducted ahead of the EU Organic Action Plan published on Thursday (25 March), with more people choosing more locally produced, seasonal, and organic food, EURACTIV France reports.

The French ate more healthily and ethically in 2020, according to  Agence Bio’s 18th barometer on consumption and perception of organic products, leading to the rise of what the report’s authors termed “locavores.”

More than half of French people said they changed their eating habits over the last three years – and almost two-thirds of them have done so during the pandemic.

This change is marked by a return to local produce and home consumption, according to the barometer published on 8 March.

Among those surveyed, 57% said they buy more fresh and seasonal products than before, while 59% prefer local products and short distribution channels, compared with 54% in 2019.

More French people (55%) said they had been cooking at home more often, saying they want to commit to avoiding food loss and waste, compared to 47% in 2019.

The number of people consuming organic food has also increased by 15%, a trend observed particularly among young people under the age of 25 and more affluent professionals. Of those, three-quarters said they had already started consuming organic products before the first lockdown, while another 17% began doing so during it, the barometer showed.

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Organic consumers were also reported to be particularly attracted to local producers, the report suggested. The number of people buying organic products at supermarkets was down 3% in 2020 from 74% in 2019. Meanwhile those buying organic food from farms and local producers rose by 6% to 26%.

The barometer also identified the main reasons why consumers turned to organic products. Most (61%) named health as one of their motivations, with 48% – mostly those under the age of 25 – wanting to protect the environment. Those surveyed also cited the increasing availability of such products (39%), as well as ethical and social concerns (38%).

A full 90% of respondents said buying French produce locally was a reason to buy organic, as are the restriction of additives. Eight out of ten organic consumers also said that it is “very important” to ensure that producers are paid fairly and that animal welfare is respected.

Price remains a major obstacle for many consumers when it comes to organic food. More than half of respondents questioned why organic products cost more than regular ones.

The report comes on the back of an increasing focus on organic production at the EU level. With the adoption of the new EU Organic Action Plan, the European Commission hopes to incentivise organic production and consumption in line with ambitious targets set out in the EU’s flagship Farm to Fork food policy. The strategy includes a target of 25% of agricultural land the EU farmed organically by 2030.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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