Photo courtesy Freska Produce International

Organics accounted for more than 5% of total food sales in the U.S. last year, surpassing $40 billion in sales, according to the Organic Trade Association. That rising demand includes tropical items, importers said, despite the challenges of growing an organic product in a hot, wet environment.

“A lot of it is grown organically, but some products have to be treated in some fashion to get it into the U.S.,” said Rick Feighery, vice president of sales of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia. “We’re getting more demand for organics on mainstay items like banana, pineapple, mango, but we’re also getting increased inquiry about organic roots, too.”

HLB Specialties, Pompano Beach, Fla., has been offering organic papaya for three years, despite the difficulty of growing the product that way, director of sales Lorenz Hartmann de Barros said.

“More people want something grown without the heavy use of pesticides,” he said. “People want an alternative to that.”

Hartmann de Barros said there is still a significant market for conventional product because of the difference in price but added that, “When the price isn’t obscenely different, people will go for organic.”

“They feel better about it,” he said. “It’s grown with less harsh pesticides or none at all. It feels more natural. Consumers feel they are doing something good for themselves and the environment.”

Hartmann de Barros said because it’s a natural product, organic shoppers are more accepting about superficial defects in a product’s appearance. That, he said, means less shrink for retailers and less loss for growers.

Gary Clevenger, co-founder and managing member of Freska Produce International LLC, Oxnard, Calif., said many retailers are offering separate displays of organic and conventional mangoes and avocados, and a few retailers prefer organics over conventional. 

“Organic mangos are seeing tremendous growth over the past couple of years, and demand will continue to grow in both mangoes and avocados,” he said.  

Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla., said demand for organic bananas is growing faster than availability.

“As volumes and demand of organic produce continue to increase, sales have been significantly higher over the past five years,” he said. “We expect to see this trend continue.”

Want to know more about organic produce? Register for The Packer’s inaugural Global Organic Produce Expo, Jan. 25-27, in Hollywood, Fla.