(Feb. 18, 11:03 a.m.) After years of impressive growth, organic pineapple sales are sliding — at least in the short term.

“Up through 2008, organic sales had been growing very dramatically,” said Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Fresh Fruit Co., Westlake Village, Calif. “The sluggish economy has slowed down some of that growth, although we do find the demand for organics remains very strong with our large retail accounts and some specialty customers,” he said.

Organic pineapples from Dole, Rosemont, Melissa’s and other companies may soon have competition from Del Monte.

“Consumers can look forward to Del Monte Gold Extra Sweet Organic pineapple within a few months,” said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla.

Banacol is also working on organic pineapples on its Costa Rican farms.

“We’ve been asked by quite a few customers for an organic pine, and we see it as a niche for some of our higher-end customers,” said Bill Sheridan, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Banacol Corp., Coral Gables. “If they have an organic department, it fits in nicely.”

Javier Saborio, Banacol’s director of logistics and operations in San Jose, Costa Rica, said the company is preparing the soil for about 90 acres of organic fruit, with the first harvest expected in 2010.

“By then, the market may be a whole different story,” said Sheridan. “It’s about being ready when the opportunity comes.”

Roc Baggett, senior category executive for pineapples for Rosemont Farms Corp., Boca Raton, Fla., said his company has no plans to stop growing organic pineapples in Costa Rica though he, too, sees tough economic times putting a dent in sales.

“Organic pineapples are still an insignificant amount in terms of our total volume,” Baggett said, “but we plan to continue growing them and developing the business.” He said Rosemont markets private label organics for several customers using their own boxes and hang tags.

San Diego-based Organics Unlimited Inc., meanwhile, continues the challenging task of producing organic gold pineapples on its farms in Mexico.

“We had the cayenne variety but, due to the fact that everybody wants the golden variety, we discontinued it,” said chief executive officer Mayra Velazquez de Leon, whose father was one of the original growers of organic bananas in Mexico.

“We are working on it,” she said.

On the retail side, Mark Carroll, director of produce purchasing and merchandising for Los Angeles-based Gelson’s Markets, said he doesn’t always carry organic pineapples because they don’t consistently meet the upscale chain’s high standards for quality and sweetness.

“We bring them in as often as we can,” he said.