TORONTO — From the wholesaler to supermarket shelves, the Toronto market is awash in organics.
“Organics has reached another level,” said Vince Bruno, co-owner of Italian Produce Co. Ltd. at the Ontario Food Terminal.
“A lot more stores are getting into it,” Bruno said. “independents are putting in organic lines and fridges and doing more promotions. It’s starting to be a big thing.”
From 10-20 pallets a week five years ago, Italian Produce Co. now sells close to three truckloads a week from Watsonville, Calif.-based Classic Salads, one of its biggest suppliers.
“Organic baby kale from California has also taken off,” Bruno said. “With all the write-ups about how good it is for your health, everybody’s buying it. It’s unbelievable.”
Even staples like celery, cauliflower, romaine hearts and broccoli are growing, he said, and sales of Driscoll’s organic berries are always strong.
Nature's Emporium, Earthbound Farm
One of his biggest customers, Nature’s Emporium, with its big new suburban supermarket, sells only certified organic produce.
John Russell, owner of J.E. Russell Produce Ltd. at the terminal, said his expansion into organics is paying off as he boosts his organic vegetable lines, delves into apples and pears and maintains a strong presence in organic and conventional berries.
Russell said he uses his long-time relationship with Earthbound Farm as a foundation to attract customers and build the business.
“Demand for organic berries, Earthbound Farm spring mix, baby kale and chard is increasing,” he said, “and the supply is much more consistent.”
To have a successful program, Russell said you need to carry both organic and conventional produce to support the overhead.
Steven Green, vice president of brokerage firm Richard E. Ryan and Associates Ltd., also is seeing an upward swing in organic sales.
“We’re getting more demand for it and it seems to be moving fairly regularly now. It’s almost becoming a mainstream product line,” Green said.
His top sellers include celery, broccoli, cauliflower, romaine hearts and organic berries and grapes.
“More people at the market are carrying organic,” he said. “For some it’s a mainstay, and for others it’s a niche. Since it’s a customer-driven business, if people want it you listen!”
One of the key initiatives at Sobeys extra, the 58,000-square-foot concept store from Stellerton, Nova Scotia-based Sobeys Inc., is to increase organic offerings and make them more affordable.
“Organics are always going to cost a little more,” said Frank Bondi, national director of category management, produce and floral, “but we’re trying to get it a little closer to the conventional commodity when it comes to retail price point.”
Within the store’s expanded produce and fresh-cut section, organics such as apples and bananas are segregated yet integrated within the category so consumers can easily see how affordable they are, Bondi said.