( Courtesy Homegrown Organic Farms )

The percentage increase of organic produce sales might be slowing, but organic grower-shippers say actual volume continues to grow.

“Growth isn’t quite as extreme as it was from a percentage standpoint,” said Scott Mabs, chief executive officer at Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif., “but the numbers are bigger as the industry gets bigger.”

Homegrown’s sales are up across the board compared to last year as supermarkets devote more space to the organic category, Mabs said.

“As remodels happen and retailers put new strategies in place for different regions, you’re continuing to see the organic sections grow,” he said.

Growth in the organic category “is beginning to stabilize a little bit,” said Mark Munger, vice president of sales and marketing for Los Angeles-based 4Earth Farms, but steady growth continues.

“We’re seeing growth in the conventional side of the business as well, but organics continues to outpace it,” he said.

Sales increases are most prominent among items that are coming more in line from a price perspective with conventional product, he said, as well as with items that are adding convenience and value for consumers.

Mainstream retailers and club stores that are putting a greater emphasis on organics are helping drive the growth, he said.

“They’re reaching a whole new level of shoppers that maybe haven’t been focusing on the natural food stores.”

Brian Peixoto, owner of Lakeside Organic Gardens LLC, Watsonville, Calif., takes issue with those who talk of a leveling off of organic sales.

“People say it’s leveling off, but I still see steady growth,” he said.

When Peixoto started his company in the mid-1990s, organic sales were concentrated on the East and West coasts.

Today, organic fruits and vegetables are popular “in pretty much every state,” he said.

Millennials are becoming an increasingly important buying base as they seek out organic juice blends and items like beet chips and kale chips, Peixoto said.

“There are a lot of different ways they’re consuming organics,” he said.

“They’re also interested in knowing where their product is coming from,” added Marliese McWherter, Lakeside’s creative marketing manager.

“They’re very interested in knowing about organic farming and the story behind it.”

A trend that John Stair, domestic commodity manager for San Francisco-based Pacific Organic Produce, has noticed is conventional shippers expanding into organics.

“We have some major, major conventional players with organic offerings,” he said.

That trend has made the business more challenging, he said.

He also cited the move to organics by millennials.

It behooves organic suppliers to appeal to that demographic early, since they eventually will be buying for their own families, he said.

Looking at what’s coming up, Darrell Beyer, director of organic sales for Boskovich Fresh Food Group, Oxnard, Calif., said celery is going to be big.
“I think the celery market is going to be pretty good for the whole season,” he said.

Boskovich also ships about 15,000 15-pound cartons of green, red and black kale each week.

“Kale is always a big mover,” he said, as are green onions and cilantro.

Pacific Organic Produce ships organic mangoes year-round from Ecuador, Peru and Mexico, Stair said, adding that mangoes have been selling well for more than 10 years.

On the vegetable side, organic asparagus has been consistently popular, he said, and organic Brussels sprouts acreage has expanded so much that there have been oversupply issues.

At 4 Earth Farms, French beans from Guatemala are the item the company is now promoting, Munger said.

Last year, the company also got into the Persian cucumber deal in Guatemala in a big way, and now Persian cucumbers are a year-round program, he said.

Rainbow carrots, each with a different taste, are another item that seems to have taken off, Peixoto said.

“People used to think carrots were just boring,” he said. 

“I’m seeing people always reaching for something new,” Peixoto said. 

“We’re always trialing different things.” 

The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Exposition & Conference (GOPEX) provides a forum to meet the rapidly changing needs of professionals who grow, distribute, pack and market organic produce. This international trade show and conference provides the ideal opportunity for organic produce professionals from around the world to network, exchange ideas, source new products and services, and do business with the industry's leading growers, distributors, packers, marketers and retailers. 

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