Courtesy Florida Department of CitrusThe economy may be struggling, but many consumers still demand their organic citrus, says John Stair, domestic commodity manager for Pacific Organic Produce/Purity Organic, San Francisco.
“I have not seen a decrease of any kind, only an increase in organic navels,” Stair said.
That trend will continue as consumers continue to find ways to include healthful, fresh organic fruit as part of their diet and lifestyle, he said.
He attributed much of the increase in organic sales to greater consumer acceptance and greater availability at retail as organics move away from being a “fringe segment.”
“The category has become more mainstream than it ever has before,” he said.
However, he said the citrus category, especially valencia oranges, did take a hit during the summer, as consumers turned to more seasonal items, like tree fruit.
The company ships organic navels, grapefruit and lemons.
Steve Taft, president of Eco-Farm Corp., Temecula, Calif., said that, although sales remain “decent,” the organic category has suffered a bit during the recession.
“It’s a little bit more sluggish on the organic citrus than it has been in the past,” he said.
Organic citrus is priced higher than conventional product, which makes it difficult for families who are pinching pennies to buy the firm’s valencias, navels, minneolas, lemons and grapefruit.
Still, a lot of interest remains in organic produce, he said, and more mainstream supermarkets are carrying it than in the past.
“I think sales will pick up as the economy picks up,” Taft said.
Some grower-shippers may not offer organic programs, but they do emphasize sustainability and reduced pesticide use.
It makes economic sense to grow sustainably and to forego the use of chemicals, said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, Calif.
The company spends a lot of time and money analyzing the needs of each of its ranches, he said.
Sales manager Doug Sankey said SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif., is a leader in sustainability.
The Protected Harvest Program, Soquel, Calif., monitors growing practices, chemical usage and social commitment and has given the company its sustainable certification, he said.
SunWest even has a special Zeal label that emphasizes to consumers in the U.S. and overseas that its product is environmentally friendly.
Organic citrus should start shipping around the same time as conventional citrus.