Sales of organic fruits and vegetables are running about a half percent higher in the Los Angeles market this year compared with last year, according to the latest edition of the FPFC Market Report from the La Mirada, Calif.-based Fresh Produce & Floral Council.
Organic fruit accounted for 3% of produce category dollar sales for the 52-week period ending March 25, according to the report released in June.
That was up from 2.5% a year ago.
The organic vegetable category accounted for 2.9% of produce dollar sales, up from 2.3% last year.
“You see reports of how organic produce sales are up overall,” even when newspapers are filled with bad economic news, said Anthony Innocenti, vice president of organic sales and head of the organics division for MCL Fresh Inc., Los Angeles.
“As consumers become more educated about what they eat, they put more of their income toward their food,” said David Lake, president and chief executive officer of MCL Fresh.
Better Life Produce Inc., Los Angeles, which specializes in organic produce, did not experience a drop in sales during the recession, said Nikki Nagel, sales manager.
Normal lulls occur a few times a year, she said, but most of the stores the company deals with report a 12% to 16% growth rate.
“Sales are strong,” she said.
“There’s more demand than ever.”
Great West Produce Inc. in Commerce “was kind of late to the party on organics,” said president Sean Villa.
The company is not a big player in the deal but has seen some growth in the category.
Organic business also continues to rise at Progressive Produce Corp. in Commerce.
“We’re working direct with more organic growers to create organic programs with our customers in multiple categories,” said Jack Gyben, vice president and partner.
There was a slight dip in organic growth during the recession, he said, but he has noticed a resurgence lately.
“We believe that will continue, largely because customers are dedicated to building organic programs,” Gyben said.
Potatoes and onions are the company’s main organic items.
At Coosemans L.A. Inc., Los Angeles, general manager Alan Pollack said organic sales to restaurants have been slower compared to retail sales.
Nonetheless, he said, “We’re getting more in every day.”
FreshPoint Southern California, Industry, Calif., sells to some organic restaurants that are very particular about the produce they serve, said president Verne Lusby.
But he’s not sure how important organic is to foodservice operators in general.
“I don’t know if organic is as important as locally grown to the customer,” he said.
Villa said the buzz about organics “has kind of fizzled some.”
While some customers still order organic product, some of those who used to demand it or ask if Great West Produce could source it for them now are going with conventional items instead, he said.