( Image by iStock/graphic by Alison Fulton )

Healthful eating is a way of life for many shoppers, and organics are easily finding their way into the mix, particularly for younger shoppers.

Of the total organic fruit and vegetable sales in 2017 — $16.5 billion — 90% came from fresh produce sales, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 Organic Industry Survey.

“Produce is a key entry point into organic, especially for young families and millennials,” according to the survey’s executive summary. In consumers’ minds, “fresh” translates to “healthy,” which is great news for fresh fruit and vegetable marketers.

Whether it’s a boost in nutrition or a lack of chemicals shoppers are looking for, organics seem to deliver.

In 2017, organic vegetables had a dollar sales growth of about 5.5%, and organic fruit sales increased 19.6% over the same period, according to consumer data provider Statistica.


Tracking the trends

Age was the No. 1 demographic factor that affected organic produce purchases over the past year, according to Organic Fresh Trends 2019. For nearly every item studied, shoppers age 50 and older were much less likely to buy organic than younger consumers (whether they were exclusive organic buyers or just periodic organic buyers).

Ethnicity, or groupings by genetic and cultural background, affected organic purchases as well.

While the results varied depending on the commodities, Asian consumers, Hispanic shoppers, and those who comprised the “all other” ethnic group were more likely to buy organic fruits and vegetables overall compared to those from other backgrounds, Organic Fresh Trends 2019 data shows.

Family structure was also important when looking at organic sales. Without fail, families with children living in the home were more likely to buy organic produce than those without kids, often significantly so.

It’s possible that this trend is due, in part, to the increased cost of organics. It’s also possible that with children out of the house, empty-nester or single consumers aren’t as conscientious about buying organics as they are when there are small bodies to nourish in the household.


Stepping up sales

Nearly one-third of respondents (31%) said that one-quarter to a half of their annual produce purchases are organic. Shoppers in the South and those earning $50,000-$100,000 annually were the most likely to fall into this category.

Fourteen percent of respondents overall said that organic items made up 50%-75% of their yearly purchases. More than one-quarter (28%) estimated that organics made up between 11%-25% of their annual fruit and vegetable purchases.

“Demand for organic is flourishing as consumers seek out nutritious and clean food that is good for their health and for the environment,” said the OTA’s CEO and executive director Laura Batcha in a news release.

Regional supermarkets are still a primary spot where shoppers seek out organics, as was the case last year.

But this year a greater percentage of consumers said they were more likely to buy at specialty markets — think Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or Sprouts — whereas last year respondents were more prone to shop at chain superstores like Walmart or Target for organic produce.


Spotlight on commodities

Greens and berries topped the charts as some of the most popular items consumers said they always bought as organic of those studied by Organic Fresh Trends 2019.

Kale was the standout at the top of both lists, as more than one-fifth of kale buyers (21%) said they always selected organic kale and 41% of buyers said they picked up organic product at least some of the time.

Delving deeper, survey results show that shoppers who classified themselves as part of the “all other” ethnic group were the most likely to always buy the leafy green vegetable as organic; families with two children living at home were the second most likely to buy organic kale exclusively.

When it came to periodic organic kale purchases, Hispanics were the group most likely to choose organic kale some of the time, although Western shoppers and those in their 40s were also prone to periodic organic kale purchases.

Grapes were the No. 2 item that shoppers said they bought as organic exclusively, with one-fifth of buyers saying they always grabbed organic grapes. Shoppers who classified themselves as part of the “all other” ethnic group were the most likely to buy organic grapes exclusively, followed by those age 18-39 and families with two kids in the household.

Blueberries and spinach tied as the third-most-popular item that shoppers sought out as organic all the time. Ethnicity and age played a role in both cases to elevate these nutrient-rich produce items as shoppers’ top picks.

Avocados claimed the No. 2 spot in the rankings of most popular produce item shoppers bought as organic at least some of the time.

Young shoppers (age 18-39) were three or four times as likely to select organic avocados as those over 50, and the ethnic groups of African American consumers, Hispanic shoppers, and those in the “all other” categories heavily influenced the purchase of organic only fruit.


Janice Kresin is editor of The Packer’s 2019 Organic Fresh Trends report, distributed with the Dec. 24 edition of The Packer. For fresh insights on the organic produce market, attend The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Expo, held Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 in Hollywood, Fla. Visit www.globalorganicexpo.com for more information and to register.