File photoMaureen Royal, saleswoman for Bridges Produce, Portland, Ore., says sales of organic produce have kept growing even when the economy was sour. “Big retailers like Costco, Wal-Mart and Safeway are making a strong push for organic,” Royal says. Demand for organic produce continues to surge despite the sometimes sluggish economy, according to shippers in the Pacific Northwest.
“We’ve seen a 20%-25% increase in demand each year,” said Maureen Royal, saleswoman for Bridges Produce, Portland, Ore. “Even when the economy slowed down, we were still showing an uptick.”
For example, Royal said Bridges had nearly doubled its sales of organic apples and pears imported from Argentina and Chile, despite the fact that prices were as much as 30% higher than a year ago. The company’s South American program began in February, and Bridges is expecting its final shipment of apples and pears from that region in late July.
“Big retailers like Costco, Wal-Mart and Safeway are making a strong push for organic,” Royal said.
Royal said Whole Foods has upped the ante with more offerings of local organic products in its stores.
“They’ve always had organic, but they’re trying to be more cost-competitive,” she said.
Royal said organic growers and shippers in the Northwest have strong support not only from retailers and consumers but also from the states.
Washington (Sept. 7-14) and Oregon (Sept. 14-20) both celebrate their state’s organic products with weeks dedicated to promoting organic products and educating consumers.
Washington ranks second in the nation in organic crops and livestock production at $284 million, while Oregon ranks fifth in the number of certified organic farms, with more than 500.
Matt Roberts, sales director for Viva Tierra Inc., Sedro-Woolley, Wash., agreed with Royal, saying that retail chains in the region — including Safeway, Fred Meyer and Haggen — and smaller independent stores are offering more and more organic products.
“That was already quite a bit of their business, but it’s becoming even larger,” he said.
Roberts said Viva Tierra will have a dedicated organic apple packing line this year after one its partners, Apple King LLC, Union Gap, Wash., acquired a new facility. Roberts said the facility’s organic line can pack 200 bins a day, and Viva Tierra expects to handle about 500,000 boxes of organic Washington apples this year.
Roberts said Viva Tierra also has added 50 acres of organic bartlett pears in California, and that crop was expected to begin harvest during the second week in July. He said the season lasts about six weeks, leading into the company’s Washington pear season.
“It makes for a robust program,” said Roberts, who added that the additional acreage will increase the company’s bartlett volume by one-third.