Organic sales were up year over in 2019 for Organics Unlimited as demand for bananas continues to grow, says Mayra Velazquez de León, president and CEO. The company is marking its 20th anniversary in 2020 along with the 15th year of its GROW social responsibility program. ( Courtesy Organics Unlimited )

Organic produce sales continue to grow, but as volume increases, the growth rate is slowing from the double-digit range the category has enjoyed over the past decade or so, grower-shippers say.

“Of all the categories in the supermarket, organics is still the hot one — the one that’s growing,” said Matt Seeley, co-founder of the Organic Produce Network.

“There is growth. It’s just not growing as fast as it used to.”

Five top produce items — packaged salads, berries, apples, herbs/spices and carrots — represent about 50% of organic sales, he said.

It seems that more organic products are moving into the ever-expanding convenience category, he added.

“If you combine organics with convenience, that provides opportunities,” Seeley said. “That’s why we will continue to see good, strong, steady growth.”

Indications point to demand for organic produce to be at or above 2019 levels this year, said Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Charlotte, N.C.-based Dole Food Co.

“This optimism is based on the continued mainstreaming of plant-based diet and lifestyle trends ranging from veganism, vegetarianism and flexitarianism to the growing realization that fresh fruits and vegetables are crucial for a healthier, happier life,” he said.

Also fueling demand for organic as well as conventional produce is the growth and acceptance of plant-based protein as a viable meal alternative to animal-based protein, he said.

Dole will ship 12 organic products this winter, including four fresh-cut vegetables and six salad mixes.

Dole bananas and pineapples will continue to represent the core of the company’s organic business, Goldfield said.

Organic sales also are up year over year — and consistent with the past few years — for San Diego-based Organics Unlimited as demand for bananas continues to grow, said Mayra Velazquez de León, president and CEO.    

Organics Unlimited produces its full line of organic cavendish bananas, plantains and coconuts during the winter months, she said.

“Our customers can rely on us throughout the winter season to provide reliable, harvest-to-order and fast delivery of our organic tropical fruits thanks to our acreage expansion of our farms and extensive network of growers in Mexico and Ecuador,” she said.

Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce is experiencing significant growth in its organic citrus and asparagus programs and a leveling off in its organic potato and onion sales, said Oscar Guzman, director of marketing and sales.

Sales of asparagus are up nearly 30% compare to a year ago, Guzman said, due largely to increased availability and a dip in retail prices.

The company now offers asparagus almost year-round.

Progressive Produce offers an organic citrus program that includes lemons, navel oranges, grapefruit, cara caras and minneolas.

Heirloom navels from grower Lehr Bros. Inc., Bakersfield, Calif., are especially popular, he said.

Mid-January should be a happy time for those who prefer domestic organic avocados.

“Jan. 15 we will really get going on some California organic,” said Bob Lucy, partner at Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

The release date for organic size 60 fruit was in early January, and Lucy said some growers were planning to start picking a week or so after that.

Fruit quality this season has been “fine,” he said in December, and oil content was expected to increase as the season progresses.

Some winter produce started shipping from West Mexico in November, but heavier volumes of items like organic green and colored bell peppers should be arriving in January into February, said Michael DuPuis, quality assurance and public relations coordinator for Divine Flavor, Nogales, Ariz.

“Between December to May, we’re pretty solid on a lot of our vegetable items,” DuPuis said, including organic grape tomatoes, tomatoes-on-the-vine and squash.

“We have a very good yellow squash and Italian squash line,” he added.

Divine Flavor also offers several kinds of cucumbers and is looking into organic eggplant after receiving good demand for the conventional version.

All come from growers who are Fair Trade certified and are highly invested in social responsibility programs, DuPuis said.

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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