( The Packer staff )

It doesn’t appear that the popularity of organic fruits and vegetables is going to fade anytime soon.

Americans spent nearly $50 billion on organics in 2017, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 Organic Industry Survey, released in May.

Fruits and vegetables continued to be the largest organic food category, recording $16.5 billion in sales in 2017 on 5.3% growth, the survey reported.

Fresh produce accounted for 90% of organic fruit and vegetable sales.

OTA said that 14% of fruits and vegetables are organic.

“(Fresh produce is) still that key driver for the organic sector,” said Tonya Antle, co-founder and executive vice president of the Monterey, Calif.-based Organic Produce Network.

Nearly 2 billion pounds of organic fresh produce were sold in U.S. grocery stores as of 2017 — a 10% increase over 2016, she said.

Strong demand from consumers seeking more healthful food and beverage products continues to propel organic sales, she said.

Who is today’s organic shopper?

“The organic shopper still skews toward certain demographics: millennials, affluent households and families,” said Matt Lally, associate director for Nielsen Fresh.

“However, spend on organic products has increased across the board from all demographics regardless of age, ethnicity, income level.”

As organic offerings continue to expand into new channels, such as value retailers, organics continue to move mainstream in consumer demand, he said.

However, spend on organic products has increased across the board from all demographics regardless of age, ethnicity, income level.

On the supplier side, Chris Ford, organics category manager for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said the popularity of organic produce is showing every sign of continuing.

“Consumers choose organics because they believe and trust that the food is better for them, their families and the planet,” he said.

“We anticipate that the organic sector will continue to grow in step with the preference of millennial families as well as the increased availability of high-quality organics from emerging regions, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere and in Mexico,” Ford said.

The organic category tends to be more popular in certain parts of the country, Antle said.

She cited U.S. Department of Agriculture figures that say 10 states account for 77% of all sales of U.S. certified organic products.

California, Pennsylvania, Washington, Oregon and Texas are the top five.

Organics also are “very coastal,” she added, with a major consumer base in the West and large contingents in places like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Future growth of organics is more likely among some items than others.

Antle said that, according to Nielsen dollar sales numbers, packaged salads are the No. 1 organic item, followed by apples, carrots, herbs and spices, berries, bananas, tomatoes, head lettuce and potatoes.

But some items have plenty of room for growth.

“There are a lot of other commodities that still need to catch up with romaine or packaged salads,” she said.

It’s impossible to predict what the future holds for organic produce because consumer trends are evolving rapidly, Lally said.

Shoppers expect organic produce in all channels, not just premium or health stores.

But he said a couple of factors may keep organic produce on its growth trajectory.

One is the continued introduction of organic offerings in all channels.

“Shoppers expect organic produce in all channels, not just premium or health stores,” he said.

Another is “a real understanding within the industry of optimal pricing.”

There’s a point where shoppers will say the benefit of organic produce does not exceed the value, he said.

They’ll decide not to buy the organic product, opting for conventional instead, or a different organic product, or nothing at all.

“Understanding the optimal price and what that threshold is across each fruit or vegetable type will be critical in the coming years for sustaining growth,” Lally said.