Some distributors in Ohio who deal in organic produce say the category isn’t attracting much attention, but others say demand is up.
“We have a fairly significant organic offering, and we’ve enjoyed double-digit growth in that category,” said Bill Schuler, president and chief executive officer of the Wilder, Ky.-based Castellini Group, which devotes a separate segment of its network to organics as a certified wholesaler.
The growth is across the category, Schuler said.
“There’s been a proliferation of organic items over the last 10 years or so, and it’s very mainstream, upscale,” Schuler said.
The “lifestyle” implications of the category assures its continued growth, Schuler said.
“You go into any retailer, and you look at the space given to organics, and you see it’s expanding rapidly across the entire product offering,” Schuler said.
Not everybody who sells organics in Ohio reports similar success, however.
“We’re certified to pack and process organic product, but we don’t see a high demand,” said Greg Fritz, president of Cleveland, Ohio-based Produce Packaging Inc., a fresh-cut repacker.
There had been more interest in fresh-cut organic fruits and vegetables in the past, Fritz said.
“About three-four years ago, there was more of a demand for packaged organic produce, but the trend has mostly reverted back to bulk,” he said.
Distributors say there is an audience for organics in Ohio — they just have to figure out what it is.
“I don’t want to say it’s a major part of our business, but we are talking to the organic people to see if we can find a way to market their product,” said Tony DiNovo, president of Columbus, Ohio-based wholesaler DNO Inc.
Locally grown competiton
For suppliers who struggle with the category, one problem may be that the call for local produce often overrides interest in organics, which is generally not conducive to the summertime heat, humidity and pests in the state.
“Local organics are pretty small operations, and it’s hard to consolidate enough product consistently to make it work out, but we’re going to be working on it this fall and winter to see if we can pull that together a little bit better than what it is now,” DiNovo said.
Organics never will be a major part of DNO’s business, “but there are people who will still look for it and we’d like to service that market,” DiNovo said.
Ben Roth, a partner in Roth ProduceOne, Columbus, which specializes in foodservice, agreed with DiNovo’s assessment.
“We do some local organic, but I wouldn’t want to hang my hat on it,” he said.
The category has a devoted following, though, Roth said.
“I guess the big challenge is to keep your customer base in off-season,” he said.