SAN FRANCISCO — Organic produce suppliers serving Northern California have enjoyed healthy sales despite economic challenges.
“I think the people who are buying organic don’t seem to be that much affected (by the economy), and they’re very passionate about organics,” said Ed Odron, owner of Ed Odron Produce Marketing Consulting, Stockton.
Because consumers of organics tend to be well-educated and have well-paying jobs, he said they have weathered the economic storm fairly well.
Earl Herrick, owner of Earl’s Organic Produce in the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, agreed, saying his firm didn’t see any drop in sales.
“It’s been a growth industry since day one,” said Herrick, who became involved with organics as a retailer in 1979.
“It’s been an upward run the entire time, sometimes double digits, sometimes single digits.”
The area he predominately serves, from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Ukiah, Calif., has been a bastion of organic agriculture since the 1970s, he said.
“The devotion is very strong and is deeply grounded in a way of life,” Herrick said.
Karen Salinger, co-owner of Veritable Vegetables Inc., San Francisco, said her firm has seen steady growth of 10% annually, and she credited the San Francisco Bay Area for much of that.
Higher-end restaurants, which tend to favor organics, already were a stronghold for Veritable Vegetables.
When diners eat unusual produce, such as lemon cucumbers, okra or tuscan rose eggplant, many will try to buy those items at retailers so they can duplicate the meal at home. Frequently, those specialty items are only grown organically, she said.
“In this economy where people might not eat out as much, they will cook nice food at home,” Salinger said.
Depending on the region, organic sales also have increased for the General Produce Co., Sacramento, said Mark Derby, general manager of the company’s Mount Shasta distribution facility as well as director of procurement.
The San Francisco Bay Area and Davis, for example, are large markets for organics.
General Produce is an Oregon Tilth-certified handler of organic produce, and most of the product comes from a Mount Shasta warehouse designated exclusively for organics, he said.
Steve Del Masso, vice president of Bay Cities Produce Co., San Leandro, which has the Cutting Edge Organics line, attributed part of the growth to decreasing prices.
“There are enough organics being farmed right now that the prices aren’t as absurd as they once were,” he said.