Organics continue to generate sales in Twin Cities

05/24/2013 02:39:00 PM
Jim Offner

Organic fruit and vegetable growers and shippers have long said the Twin Cities is one of the most popular destinations for the product.

Produce wholesalers and retailers in the metropolitan area say the category continues to increase its following.

“Locally and organic grown goods generate market buzz, as evidenced by the touting of both in several Twin Cities restaurants,” said Mary Vander Leest, spokeswoman for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based retail distributor Supervalu Inc.

She said organics have grown in popularity to the point where some products, such as spices and herbs, are offered only as organic.

The homegrown category has been garnering plenty of headlines, much as organics did a number of years ago, but that doesn’t mean the latter’s momentum has slowed, said Dan McElroy, executive vice president for the Minnesota Restaurant Association, St. Paul.

There’s no mistaking the organics category’s foothold in the Twin Cities market, said Tom Rodmyre, warehouse manager for St. Paul-based Co-op Partners Warehouse.

“I think we’re strong (as a market for organics) and there’s still room to grow it,” he said.

School systems, particularly colleges, are interested in organics, although sometimes the price premium can get in the way of sales, Rodmyre said.

“They don’t have the funds for it yet, but they’re all talking heavily about it, but the colleges are using bananas and other stuff,” he said.

In the retail sector, a wider availability of organic items has fed growth over the years, said Adam Gamble, general manager of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.-based North Country Produce, a subsidiary of Wadena, Minn.-based Russ Davis Wholesale.

“We’re seeing more and more of your traditional conventional retailers increasing the number of SKUs they carry,” he said.

That’s no surprise, considering the market’s history with the category, he said.

“The Twin Cities market has always had a strong segment of co-ops, and now we’re starting to see more organics in traditional big-box stores,” he said.

Perceptions of the integrity or nutritional advantages of organics are a selling point, said Dean Schladweiler, produce manager with The Wedge Community Co-Op, a retailer that also grows organic product in the metro area.

Younger consumers are trending toward organics, which also feeds popularity of organics, he said.

The price premium is less a factor than in past years, Schladweiler said.

Organics are big sellers in the nine Kowalski’s Markets in the metro area, said Tim Fortier, produce manager at the chain’s main store in Woodbury, Minn., which is considered an upscale suburb.

“There’s growth, especially in this store,” he said. “We’ve done a better job recently of promoting it.”



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