Courtesy Organic Trade AssociationKyle Mathison (right), partner in Stemilt Growers, talks with Canadian food bloggers about organic apple picking in a Stemilt orchard in Wenatchee, Wash. Early sales figures for 2012 have the organic industry optimistic about year-on-year growth. Official organic sales figures from 2012 won’t be finalized until around the end of March, but the industry anticipates strong year-on-year improvement.
“Indications are that organic food sales continued to have strong growth during 2012 and are likely to have met the projected 9% increase over 2011 sales predicted in the Organic Trade Association’s 2012 Organic Industry Survey,” said Christine Bushway, executive director of the Brattleboro, Vt.-based OTA.
Marketing agents say a good report wouldn’t surprise them.
“Before we even evaluated our consumer input and their specific requests for organic product from a sales perspective, it was doing very well,” said Amber Kosinsky, marketing director for Wish Farms, an organic and conventional grower-shipper based in Plant City, Fla.
Watsonville, Calif.-based Lakeside Organic Gardens, which has only organics, reported a 30% boost in sales from 2011 to 2012.
“People are continuing to realize the benefits of choosing organic,” said Brian Peixoto, sales manager.
Organics are selling particularly well in packages, said Bruce Klein, marketing director with Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., based in Secaucus, N.J.
“With the supermarket retailers having both conventional and organic product out there, you really need organic product packaged, and it does do very well,” Klein said.
A positive OTA survey would be the continuation of a trend, said Matt Seeley, vice president of marketing with Salinas, Calif.-based vegetable grower-shipper The Nunes Co.
“Obviously, the organics over the past three to four years have become the focal point of where we see growth opportunities,” he said.
The category may have slowed a bit during the recession of 2008-09, but its upward momentum has continued, Seeley said.
“You’re not going to see a turning back of the clock in movement of organics. It’s only going to trend upward,” he said.
The Nunes Co. has planned accordingly, he said.
“It’s not easy going through this, converting conventional-grown land, conventional harvesting and conventional cultural practices,” he said.
But the process continues, he said.
“We do see this is the way that the business is moving,” he said.
Organics-heavy Washington state is seeing the same growth rates other areas of the U.S. are experiencing, said Matt Roberts, sales manager at Sedro-Woolley, Wash.-based organics shipper CF Fresh Inc.
As an example, he said the last Washington apple crop was about 9% organic, and moving the fruit was not difficult.
“The demand is there,” he said.
Oxnard, Calif.-based grower-shipper Deardorff Family Farms is reporting a 50% increase in total organic volume for the past year, said Tom Deardorff, president.
“We still see market demand for it is really ahead of what we can do from a production standpoint because it still takes time to convert from conventional ground,” he said.
Prices are firm but not stratospheric, Deardorff said.
“It doesn’t overreact, doesn’t go astronomically high, but the premium is there to kind of reallocate resources from conventional into organic,” he said.
Sales have been steady at Earl’s Organic, a San Francisco wholesaler, said founder and owner Earl Herrick.
Increased year-around availability has fueled growth, Herrick said.
Diane Dempster, manager of Farmer’s Own, the local organic program at Charlie’s Produce, a Seattle wholesaler, said sales continue to rise.
“We’ve got more stores increasing volume, and sales have been on a steady climb through the recession and up beyond that since then,” she said.
The category is graduating into the realm of “mainstream” offerings, said Cherie France, sales and marketing assistant for Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif.
“The market will continue to evolve into a normal, everyday item versus the ‘specialized’ item it has been in the past,” she said.
One illustration of the organic category’s maturity can be found in the varieties of apples available, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director with Stemilt Growers Inc., based in Wenatchee, Wash.
“It used to be organic reds and organic golds 10 years ago, and now, major runs of galas, fujis, pink ladies and piñatas are starting to dominate this organic scene,” Pepperl said.