As sales of organic fruits and vegetables continue a steady rise in the U.S., growth may be even more dramatic in Canada, marketers say.
“We definitely continue seeing interest in organics grow, with demand outpacing supply,” said Jill Guerra, research and special projects coordinator with the Ottawa, Ontario-based Canada Organic Trade Association.
It is a sharp departure from the way things used to be, Guerra said.
“In the past, organic products were mostly found among natural health retailers or farmers markets, whereas now we see organic products being offered across diverse channels — at mainstream grocery stores, on university campuses, in restaurants and even on airplane menus,” she said.
According to a series of Ipsos polls, just from 2016-17, the percentage of Canadian grocery shoppers who chose organic weekly rose from 56% to 66%, Guerra said.
“Demand is growing as consumers become aware of the environmental, health and economic challenges that we face today.” she said.
Millennials are the most likely generation to buy organics in Canada with 83% choosing organic weekly, compared to 62% for Generation X and 56% for baby boomers, Guerra said.
“This is partly because millennials tend to be values-based consumers — they are more likely to make purchases that align with what they believe in and what makes them feel good,” she said.
“Considering the environmental, health and economic benefits of organic, it is no surprise that this generation is embracing organics.”
Organic production has increased with demand across Canada, Guerra said.
“Between 2011 and 2017, organic acreage in Canada increased by over 45%, reaching over 3 million acres,” she said.
“In comparison, total agricultural acres remained more or less stable.”
Pasture, forage and green manure, collectively, is the largest category of organic lands at over 2 million acres, mostly in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta, Guerra said.
Field crops — wheat and oats are the top crop categories — comprise most of the remaining acres, at more than 1 million, Guerra said.
Fruits and vegetables, found mostly on smaller plots of land, take up around 70,000 acres, Guerra said.
COTA plays a key role in building public trust of organics amongst Canadian consumers, Guerra said.
“COTA runs two organic consumer-focused campaigns — Organic Week and Choose Canada Organic — which aim to educate Canadians on the benefits of organic food and its positive effects on human health and the environment,” Guerra said.
Marketers said Canada is hungry for organic product.
“One reason for the continual climb in organic sales in Canada can be attributed to the stricter organic standards and labeling requirements in Canada,” said Jacob Shafer, senior marketing and communications specialist for Salinas, Calif.-based Mann Packing Co.
“As a result, consumers know that organic actually means something and is researched and backed by the government.”
Millennials are a chief driver of organic sales, both in Canada and the U.S., said Chuck Sinks, president of sales with Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co.
“It’s no different than the continued growth in the U.S. — awareness and the idea of providing healthier options for individuals and their growing families,” he said.
Chris Ford, organic category manager with Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, agreed.
“While the U.S. and Canadian markets differ in many ways, we think it’s fair to say that the same trends that are driving organic growth here are also fueling sales north of the border,” he said.
“Between increased availability of a wide assortment, and the price gap between organic and conventional fruit shrinking, organics have increasing appeal.”