A worker picks tomatoes for Wholesum Family Farms, which has been growing organic tomatoes for more than 30 years. The company also offers organic cucumbers, squash, eggplant and bell peppers. ( Courtesy Wholesum Family Farms )

The COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t seem to have hurt sales of organic produce.

For the first half of 2020, organic fresh produce sales were up 11% in dollar growth and 13% in volume over the first six months of 2019, according to the Q2 2020 Organic Produce Performance Report released in June by the Organic Produce Network and Category Partners. 

April-June sales increased 17% and volume was up 18% from the same period in 2019.

Total organic fresh produce sales for January-June totaled $3.3 billion, the report said. Second quarter sales topped $1.7 billion.

That growth may slow a bit as the year progresses, said Matt Seeley, Organic Produce Network CEO.

“Indications are double-digit growth is slowing somewhat from the second quarter, but sales and volume growth remain very robust,” he said.

“The start of the third quarter in July did see a continuation of double-digit growth — in the low teens — and we should see similar levels heading into the fall if supplies remain readily available.”

Seeley expected to see higher movement on organic fruit as stone fruit, grapes and melons hit their stride in the third quarter.

Although sales of organic produce likely will continue to increase, Scott Mabs, chief executive officer at Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif., said it will be harder as volume rises for the annual growth rate to stay in double digits.

“It’s a larger number now that we’re dealing with, so having double-digit growth is going to be more and more difficult to sustain,” he said.

Organic produce now accounts for about 10% of the produce deal — not just a couple of percentage points as in the past — he said.

He expects to see an annual growth rate more like 5%-6%, which he said “still is good growth.”

Organic grapes has been a significant growth area, with new varieties coming on the scene every year, he said.

Blueberries also continue to make sales gains, and a new trend seems to be an increase in specialty products that rarely were grown organically in the past, such as blood oranges and Champagne grapes.

“That’s continuing to evolve,” he said.

Organics have been an important part of the apple program at Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. for 31 years, and that will continue to be true in 2020, said Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager.

“We will be up in volume on organics compared to last year because we’ve had more acreage become certified organic,” she said.

In recent years, “modern, high-flavor varieties that consumers seek” have helped the program expand, she said.

For Charlotte, N.C.-based Dole Food Co., demand for organic this year is slightly below the previous year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, said Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications.

“We are now seeing a gradual return to pre-pandemic levels and expect to continue seeing the pull for Dole organic products,” he said.

Overall, including conventionally grown product, demand seems to be on par in 2020 with 2019, he said.

“The continued mainstreaming of plant-based diet and lifestyle trends ranging from veganism, vegetarianism and flexitarianism to the realization that fresh fruits and vegetables are crucial for a healthier, happier life should offset the virus’ effect and buoy demand,” Goldfield said.

Sales at Delta, British Columbia-based Village Farms International Inc. have been “significantly above normal” compared to year-ago numbers, said Helen Aquino, director of brand marketing and communications.

But she said that’s not surprising during the pandemic.

“We have seen this trend in high retail demand wane a bit since the pantry-loading phase that began in early March, but volume growth has picked up again, mostly likely due to COVID numbers on the rise again,” she said.

Morro Bay, Calif.-based Vida Fresh is “by nature an organic company,” said CEO Andrew Walsh. 

He’s excited by what he sees as a “drop in interest of conventional product.”

“We are going to be increasing our organic production of vegetables and culinary fresh herbs and dropping our conventional production down dramatically,” he said.

The company’s product line that includes tomatoes, sweet corn, melons and winter squash has been trimmed down over the years.

“We’ve been dropping items we grow organically to focus on items on which we can do the best job for the income to the farm and quality and flavor for the customers,” he said.

The year so far has been like a roller coaster ride for Addie Pobst, organic integrity and logistics coordinator for Viva Tierra Organic Inc., Sedro-Woolley, Wash.

“I feel that over all, we are averaging a relatively strong year,” she said.

“But it also feels a little precarious, like we’re constantly teetering between ups and downs that we can’t necessarily see coming or control.”

In mid-August, Viva Tierra is shipping organic bartlett and some bosc pears from California and some early bartletts from Washington, she said.

The company was starting a new apple crop from California and preparing for the Washington crop to get underway, probably in early September. 

 

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Comments
Submitted by jbd on Sat, 08/15/2020 - 11:11

People are waking up! Organic is the best choice to avoid GMOs, glyphosate and other toxic chemicals.

Submitted by jbd on Sat, 08/15/2020 - 11:12

People are waking up! Organic is the best choice to avoid GMOs, glyphosate and other toxic chemicals.