LONDON — The combination of a tough economic climate and problems with variable product quality led to a sharp downturn in U.K. organic bread and biscuit sales during 2009, according to the latest Organic Market Report published April 12 by the Soil Association.

Of the 14 major categories within the U.K. organic food market, bread and bakery sales sustained the sharpest decline between 2008 and 2009, falling nearly 40%. This compared with declines of 28% for fresh poultry and game, 23% for fresh meat, 21% for chilled convenience foods, 19% for biscuits and 15% for produce. Breakfast cereal sales declined 9% during 2009.

The organic bread and bakery segment generated €40.7 million in sales in 2009, according to the Soil Association, giving it a 3% share of the total U.K. organic market. Dairy products at 33% ranked as the largest share holder, followed by produce at 26%. No other category had more than a 6% share of the total category. Two other grain-based foods categories — breakfast cereals and biscuits — held a 4% and 3% share, respectively.

“Bread sales were hit by a combination of the economic downturn and problems with variable product quality,” the Soil Association wrote in the report. “There are signs that in spite of this, some artisan bakers are moving forward, with high-quality products that continue to command strong support from a core of committed consumers.

“A key concern for 2010 is the uncertain availability of organic flour and other ingredients after the negative impact of a wet summer on the 2009 harvest. It is important to maintain the confidence of organic farmers in continuing to invest in and produce organic cereals.”

The Soil Association did note that through Feb. 22 the rate of decline in organic bread had been cut to 9.4%. Meanwhile, the rate of decline for biscuits was cut to 2.5% and for breakfast cereals was cut to 2.2%.