( The Packer )

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Organic produce looks poised to continue its steady growth, buoyed both by “true believers” that market organic exclusively and by other grower-shippers who simply want to meet the full spectrum of customer demand.

Speakers at the Global Organic Produce Expo discussed how they expect the segment to evolve in coming years, and I fully expect producers will adapt to the challenges mentioned and take advantage of the opportunities presented.

In the category of possible changes that could be arduous, InterNatural Marketing founder Chris Bell noted that additional steps will likely be required to demonstrate the integrity of organic product.

He suggested blockchain technology could play a role and noted that random pesticide residue checks are likely imminent.

“With cross-contamination potential between farms that are organic and conventional, that may present some challenges,” Bell said. 

Regarding traceability, the produce industry is already taking steps to understand and shape the potential for blockchain, with major growers participating in retailer pilots and the Produce Marketing Association observing and advising as well. 

As for residue checks, Food and Drug Administration reports have repeatedly shown the vast majority of produce complies with relevant regulations already, so it seems likely producers will be competent in accounting for any new standards as well.

Another challenge — frustrating but not new — is that growers are unlikely to get help from the National Organic Standards Board in terms of more applications to fight pests and diseases.

“I’ve been going to (NOSB) meetings for half a decade now and I can count on one hand the amount of new tools that producers have gotten in those years, and they’ve been saddled with so many restrictions,” said Organic Trade Association farm policy director Nate Lewis.

This is certainly an issue, but it is one numerous growers have been navigating with some success for years. If demand for organic product truly exceeds supply in the future, perhaps there will be more willingness to consider new tools.

On the consumer side of the equation, the industry has already begun acting on some of the advice given for growing the organic category.

Patrick Knight, director of consumer insights at analytics firm SPINS, suggested growers prioritize convenience for meal preparation and convenience in terms of selling in channels that casual organic shoppers already frequent.

Produce has always had no shortage of challenges but a wealth of opportunities as well, and the same goes for organic.

If the growth of the segment rests on the competence of producers, I would bet organic sales will continue to grow for years to come.

Ashley Nickle is a writer for The Packer. E-mail her at [email protected].

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Slideshow: Global Organic Produce Expo Booths No. 1
Slideshow: Global Organic Produce Expo Booths No. 2