( Pamela Riemenschneider )

The organic produce industry might be benefiting from its “health halo” during the coronavirus pandemic.

After an initial drop at the start of the COVID-19 scare, produce sales seem to have rebounded significantly.

It’s difficult to know for sure, but some organic produce suppliers says there’s a good chance that organic movement has increased even more than conventional as consumers try to eat healthier.

“There is a certain health halo around organic that is a perception that people have,” said Scott Mabs, chief executive officer at Porterville, Calif.-based Homegrown Organic Farms.

“When people think about wanting to eat healthy, organic does come to mind,” he said. 

“We have, I think, been beneficiaries of that during this pandemic.”

Public health officials have encouraged people to follow a nutritious diet, and Mabs said that when many people think about eating healthier and taking better care of themselves, “organic is a part of that thought process.”

The benefits of that new trend have helped organic produce across the board, he said, but citrus, known for its high vitamin C content, seems to stand out.

Apples also have a reputation for promoting good health.

“Apples have shown to be a strong performer during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager at Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.

That’s likely because they keep well and are a favorite snack for many, she said.

“More food is being consumed at home now, and apples have always been an easy-to-grab fruit with year-round availability,” Shales said.

Organic demand has been growing every year, and she said there may be room for even more growth.

“Great merchandising, the right product and regular promotion are keys to success for organics to not only maintain the everyday organic shopper, but also attract new shoppers to the category,” she said.

COVID-19 has people looking more closely at their food purchases, said Andrew Walsh, CEO at Vida Fresh, Morro Bay, Calif.

Cooking at home has increased 80%, he said, and COVID-19 has sparked more interest in organics overall.

Many consumers believe organic fruits and vegetables are healthy for the environment and, by extension, “healthier in a broader sense,” he said.

From a micro view, they have less pesticide residue than conventional product, and from a macro view, they benefit the earth and the environment, Walsh said.

It makes sense that organics might attract more attention during a pandemic, said Tim Youmans, executive vice president of sales for Root 24 Farms, Moxee, Wash.

There’s acknowledgment that consumers are seeking out produce items that are high in antioxidants and protective of their immune system, he said.

“If you’re looking for the healthiest version of them, you’re going to select organics.”

That applies to fresh and frozen produce, he said.

People are not able to visit the gym and may not be moving around much these days, Youmans said.

“They’re looking at food as a gateway to a healthier lifestyle.”

It’s been kind of a “stop-and-go” market this year, said Addie Pobst, organic integrity and logistics coordinator for Viva Tierra Organic Inc., Sedro-Woolley, Wash.

“There have been some surges in demand followed by some periods of lower demand,” she said.

Pobst said it’s hard to say whether consumers are switching to organic produce or if organic produce sales have increased as a result of an overall uptick in demand as more consumers cook at home and eat more fresh produce.

“I don’t know whether we can make a determination yet whether people are specifically looking to organic for a health benefit, but it’s great news that people are eating lots more fresh produce,” she said. 


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