Restaurants and cafes have a “long way to go” in providing organic food and drink, but should consider embracing the genre more readily as the public’s appetite for organic returns, a leading campaigner on the subject has told M&C Report.

Rob Sexton, chief executive of the Soil Association, made the comments following the release of a report from the group that found the value of organic food and drink in the restaurant and catering sector grew 10% to £17.5m in 2013.

Despite the increase, Sexton highlighted the fact that even schools are increasingly providing some organic products; at least 15% of products served at primary schools in Lewisham, London, for example, is organic.

And he noted the “very significant’ growth of organic in Waitrose, for example.

Asked if the eating out sector is ‘missing a trick’ by not providing more organic products, Sexton replied: “I think so.”

“The [restaurant and cafe] sector generally has quite a long way to go,” he stated, pointing to the fact that the £17.5m market for organic in the eating out sector is a very small propotion of the industry’s value.

“Maybe it’s time to reconsider it now interest is coming back, consumer behaviour is starting to change.

“People are buying a lot more food online and getting more of a back story of their food. They are used to information about where their food is coming from. Maybe it’s time for out-of-home to reconsider organic, which they have probably not considered for a few years.”

However, Sexton said there are some “bright lights” among restaurant and cafe chains.

He highlighted the steps taken by Pret A Manger to have more organic ingredients and said McDonald’s has served organic milk for a number of year and also uses organic fruit in children’s menus.

He also pointed to Jamie’s Italian, which serves organic lamb, chicken and fish in its children’s meals.

He pointed out that 55% of baby food sold in supermarkets is organic, but “people’s priorities seem to change” when they have a family meal out, and this presents an opportunity for restaurants and cafes.

Sexton said the public are now starting to ask more questions about where food is coming from, with the horsemeat scandal “reigniting an interest in the story behind the food”.

 “I think there are opportunities for restaurants and cafes to look again at some of their ingredients and maybe use organic, as a way of telling a story.”