Like produce buyers everywhere, those who do business at the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto are seeking out organic fruits and vegetables every day, and many suppliers are going to great lengths to meet their needs.

North American Produce Buyers, for example, has been sourcing organic produce from California and other areas, but the company plans to launch a new program from Chile within the next few weeks, Stephan Schmekel, executive vice president of sales and marketing, said in early February.

“Organic stone fruit is something relatively new to the Chilean industry,” he said.

This will be the first time the company will source primarily organic nectarines and plums from Chile. 

“It will bring a whole new perspective to this program that’s essentially been conventional product throughout history,” he said.

Demand for organic produce is increasing, Schmekel said, but humid conditions can be a concern in some areas of Chile.

There are other regions, however, that are drier than most and are not seriously affected by the humidity.

In those regions, “You’re able to do (organic) without having to resort to pesticides that would take the organic component away,” he said.

The company “felt the need” to start a Chilean organic program at this time, he said.

“We see the potential long term for growth in the category, so we, with our partners in Chile, decided to pull the trigger for the season we are in.”

The Chilean organic citrus deal will be seasonal and continue until late March.

North American Produce Buyers also has a number of organic programs in California on a seasonal basis.

“As much organic as we can procure, we’ll get,” Schmekel said.

“Organic is big,” agreed Julian Sarraino, chief operating officer for Fresh Taste Produce Ltd.    

Fresh Taste offers “the full gamut” of organic fruits and vegetables, depending on availability, he said.

But he added that organic produce typically is pricier than conventionally grown produce, and it can be more difficult to find at times.

J.E. Russell Produce Ltd. focuses on “selling the very best to our customers,” said Hutch Morton, senior vice president.

“We are beginning to see more and more organic customers here at the terminal,” he said.

The company offers a wide selection of organic vegetables as well as berries, salads, mushrooms, cucumbers and more, he said.

“We have over 160 organic items for sale today, which is roughly 50% of our total list,” Morton said.

Sales continue to grow as Fresh Taste adds more and more organic-only and organic-focused customers, he said.

Morton added that he expects sales of organic produce to continue to grow.

Gambles Ontario Produce also is putting more emphasis on its organic program, said Sarah Taylor, marketing manager.

The company has added an organic buyer, Steve Czulinksi, and now brings in a wide selection of organic items, including berries, apples, grapes, bananas, citrus, potatoes, mushrooms, garlic, tofu, a few organic juices and a line of packaged salads for foodservice and retail customers.

“We’re seeing there’s a big push toward organic,” Taylor said. 

“It’s a growing category.”

The company expanded its organic program because customers are looking for more organic options as they seek healthier choices and become conscious of the effect of pesticides on their produce, she said.

Gambles has not been a major organic player compared to some other produce distributors, but Taylor said she hopes the company will develop a reputation as a strong organic supplier in the future.

She said she believes that prices of organic produce will drop, and that will attract even more purchases from price-conscious consumers.

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