Sales of organic fruits and vegetables have been on the rise for several years now, and retailers say movement in the category isn’t showing any signs of slowing.
“In the beginning, we thought (organics) would be a fad,” said Manuel Rodriguez, produce manager for a Salinas, Calif., location of Nob Hill Foods, a Salinas-based chain of 22 stores that is part of the Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley’s Supermarkets chain.
“But it seems like it’s going to stay,” he said.
About 15% of the store’s produce now is organically grown.
“We’re growing little by little,” Rodriguez said.
Greens — such as kale, collard greens and Swiss chard — have been the top-selling organic items since the juicing movement took off a couple of years ago, he said.
During the summer, grapes, apple and pears are among the store’s bestselling organic products.
About 10% of the produce at the Harps Foods store in Harps, Ark., is organically grown, said produce manager Toni Adams.
Most of the organic items are displayed in the first section of the produce department’s cold case, but she also has an organic fruit section that features berries, grapes, apples and citrus.
Organic grape tomatoes and tomatoes on the vine are displayed near the conventional tomatoes, and Adams merchandises organic russet potatoes and yellow and red onions on pullout units in front of the conventional potatoes.
Top-selling organic items for Harps are bagged carrots, 5-pound bags of russet potatoes and grape tomatoes.
“I sell a lot of bags of organic lemons,” she said.
On the value-added side, the store features Organic Girl salads and usually has baby spinach, a 50-50 spinach/arugula mix and a three-pack of Organic Girl romaine hearts.
“I’ve got packaged organic green beans, green onions, zucchini, green bell peppers, cucumbers and snap peas,” she said.
At Bert’s Red Apple Market in Seattle, produce manager Terry Short has found that organics aren’t necessarily the No. 1 choice of shoppers.
“I found my customers want quality over everything else,” he said.
If organic spinach, for example, does not equal the quality of conventional product, customers won’t buy it, he said.
With only 32 feet of wet rack, Short doesn’t have much room for organic items, but he tries to carry organic versions of most products.
Organic Girl salads are probably his top-selling organic items, along with bananas, berries, broccoli and carrots, he said.
Organic potatoes and onions are popular, but customers seem noncommittal when it comes to tomatoes, and they’re not big fans of organic citrus.
“I do not do well on organic citrus at all,” he said, even if prices are comparable to conventional citrus.
Nob Hill Foods devotes a separate 32-foot section to products like organic greens, apples and oranges, Rodriguez said.
“A lot of stores integrate organics with conventional, but that kind of confuses people,” he said.
The store has special signage for organic items that includes place of origin and sometimes the name of the grower.
“It’s really easy to identify,” Rodriguez said.
Harps Foods has had to increase the size of its organic section in recent years “because we’ve had so many more requests for it,” Adams said.
She said expects that growth to continue.
“(Shoppers) think it’s healthier,” she said.
“They’re trying to steer away from chemicals as much as they can.”
Bert’s Red Apple Market displays organic produce near its conventional counterparts, Short said.
“I just don’t have the capacity to do all my wet rack organics in one spot,” he said.
He tries to focus on locally grown fruits and vegetables.
“I do very well with local organic product,” he said.
“I try to keep it as local as I can.”