Organic peppers are among the commodities that have seen double-digit sales growth each of the past three years. ( File photo )

Berries and mushrooms are among the hottest organic produce items, corn could be next, and there seems to be ample opportunity for growth in the organic value-added category, industry experts say.

The products that have made the largest gains in organic sales are those that are “closest to the point of consumption” — meaning products that don’t have an outer covering to peel, said Matt Lally, associate director at Nielsen Fresh.

Specifically, berries, mushrooms and peppers have achieved double-digit growth rates each of the past three years, he said.

Two exceptions are bananas and avocados.

Organic banana dollar sales have grown an average of 18% each of the past three years, likely due to the relative modest price increase relative to its conventional counterpart,” Lally said.

And organic avocados have benefited from the enormous surge in sales of all avocados.

However, sales of many organic commodities remain underdeveloped, Lally said.

For example, grapes, onions and mandarins all rank in the top 10 for conventional sales, but do not crack the top 10 for organic sales. 

Organic apples also are a growth category.

“We are seeing more organic apples globally, as growers explore and discover the microclimates that are conducive to producing them with consistency,” said Chris Ford, organics category manager for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

“Compared to other items, apples are relatively easy to grow organically,” he said.

So far, the corn category has been particularly challenging — especially for organic growers — said Pete Aiello, owner and general manager of Uesugi Farms, Gilroy, Calif.

“Most people don’t want to try to grow corn conventionally, let alone organically,” he said.

But as the industry develops better organic nutrition and organic crop protection tools, growing corn should become a little easier and a little less risky, he said.

Even if more growers get involved in the corn deal, Aiello said it likely will be a while before he will have to worry about new competition.

“The pipeline has capacity for a lot more than there is,” he said.

At Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms Inc., which ships a variety of vegetables, including kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts and green onions, organic sales manager Darrell Beyer said he’d like to add some new items.

“I’m hoping to get into the fruit market to help during the dog days of summer,” he said.

“And we are working with a greenhouse grower for organic mushrooms that will be coming down the pipeline in the future.”

Value-added products could be another growth area for the organic category, said Tonya Antle, co-founder and executive vice president of Organic Produce Network, Monterey, Calif.

Nielsen figures indicate that organic snack and grab-and-go products make up just 3% — $121 million — of total value-added sales, she said.

“That’s opportunity knocking,” she said, with an 8% year-over-year growth rate.

Organics have been part of fresh produce for years, becoming a mainstream part of nearly all products and categories within the industry, said Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Food Co., Westlake Village, Calif.

“Organic still makes up a relatively small percentage of category sales, so there are opportunities to provide consumers with a deeper understanding of how organic produce is grown and harvested,” he said.

“What the organic consumer is looking for the most is authenticity and transparency in their food choices,” Goldfield said.

“They care about where and how their food is produced.”