Organic produce sales topped $5 billion in 2016, according to IRI/Freshlook Marketing data. The Nunes Co. contributed to that volume with its 35 Foxy Organic items, including broccoli (shown here), marketed under the Foxy Organic label, says Doug Classen, vice president of sales. ( Courtesy The Nunes Co. )

The organic produce category continues to show significant growth.

Organic produce sales hit $4.5 billion in 2015, according to data from IRI/Freshlook Marketing. At the end of 2016, the figure had risen to more than $5 billion.

Packaged salads topped Nielsen’s list of the top-selling fresh organic produce categories, followed by berries, apples, carrots and value-added vegetables.

“We continue to see the organic market increase and grow at a steady rate,” said Scott Mabs, chief executive officer of Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif.

More conventional retailers are beginning to build out their organic programs, he said.

Mabs expects a demand-exceeds-supply situation to continue for organic items that are difficult to grow, while oversupplies could crop up for those that are easier to grow.

“Each category is unique,” he said.

“We continue to see growth in our overall organics, definitely,” said Michael Golderman, marketing brand leader for Fresh Express Inc., Salinas, Calif.

Baby spinach, a Caesar salad kit, spring mix, 50/50 mix and a pomegranate-cranberry kit were the company’s top five organic products.

“The number of buyers continues to trend upward,” Golderman said.

Salinas-based The Nunes Co. offers about 35 organic items under its Foxy Organic label, said Doug Classen, vice president of sales.

“We have a broad spectrum of demand,” he said.

Some customers order the main Western vegetable items like romaine hearts, celery hearts, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce, he said. But the company also sees substantial interest in its bunching program, which includes parsley, kales, chards, cilantro and various greens.

A significant amount is organic, he said.

Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif., offers about 20 organic items on any given day, said Darrell Beyer, organic sales manager.

Bestsellers are spinach, Brussels sprouts, carrots, celery and kale.

“The category does continue to grow,” he said, “and I don’t see any slowing down in the future.”

Organic berries, primarily strawberries, have accounted for about 10% of the production at Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc. for the past five years, said Jim Grabowski, director of marketing.

The company launched its organic program at least 15 years ago, when organic was just becoming a buzzword, and conventional buyers started asking for a few organic berries, he said.

Customers who ordered one or two pallets per order with their conventional fruit now buy truckloads of organic strawberries, Grabowski said.

“Organics are doing great this year” at Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., said salesman Brent Shammo.

The company ships a full line of organic apples, including gala, fuji, granny smith, red delicious and Honeycrisp.

Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers Inc. has grown fruit organically since 1989, said Brianna Shales, communications manager.

Stemilt’s organic products include most varieties of apples and pears, as well as cherries and stone fruit, she said.

“Our growth has been focused on modern apple varieties, including tripling our organic Honeycrisp volume and increasing supplies of organic fuji, gala, Piñata, SweeTango and Pink Lady,” she said.

Organic mushrooms also seem to be prospering.

“Our organic consumption is probably up close to 80% year over year,” said Michael Richmond, sales manager for Champ’s Mushrooms Inc., Aldergrove, British Columbia.

He attributes the increase to some major retailers who are just starting to buy organic mushrooms.

“For us, it’s been a massive increase,” he said, but he expects that increase to drop to about 10% to 20% per year.

Sales also are on the rise for Giorgio Fresh Co., Blandon, Pa.

“We continue to see steady growth and are deeply committed to the organic mushroom category,” said Bill Litvin, senior vice president sales and national accounts manager.

Giorgio sells a variety of organic mushrooms, including white, baby bella, portabella, shiitake, royal trumpet, maitake and beech.

In 2016, 8% of the mushrooms produced at Watsonville-based Monterey Mushrooms Inc. were organic, with 23% of the company’s production dedicated to organic growing, said Mike O’Brien, vice president of sales and marketing.  

The company has a specialty organic line that includes king trumpet, beech, maitake, shiitake, oyster and enoki mushrooms, he said.