( File photo )

Marketers of organic fruits and vegetables say convenience and choice are driving the continued rise in sales within the category.

“Shelf space and variety of products are tied directly to consumer demands,” said Jacob Shafer, spokesman with Salinas, Calif.-based vegetable grower-shipper Mann Packing Co.

It’s a simple matter of giving shoppers what they want, Shafer said.

“If consumers continue to buy organic products, then more and more organics will become available at retail,” he said.

The key is found in statistics, Shafer said.

“Consumers have shown they are willing to pay premiums for organics because they generally view the products as healthier compared to their conventional counterparts,” he said.

Organic fits naturally with a consumer desire for transparency, said Ray Wowryk, director of business development with Leamington, Ontario-based greenhouse vegetable grower-shipper NatureFresh Farms.

“If your business is not transparent with the consumer about how and why you grow a certain way, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to achieve brand loyalty,” he said.

Whatever the cause, there’s no mistaking the effect, said Steve Lutz, senior strategist with Wenatchee, Wash.-based fruit grower-shipper CMI Orchards.

“Our production of organics jumped 15% this year, on top of a 60% increase last year, so we’re seeing a strong response from retailers,” said Lutz, whose company sells its organic lines under the Daisy Girl brand.

Kids and convenience also are driving sales of organics, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director with Wenatchee-based fruit grower-shipper Stemilt Growers LLC.

“Three-pound organic Lil Snappers is a big growing program for kids,” Pepperl said. “The 3-pound purchase size keeps volume purchasing higher than 2-pound competitor options that shrink volume share. We are capturing attention on this strategy.”

Consistency of supplies also leads to more sales, said Chris Ford, organic category manager with Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

“We have a year-round supply of organic colored bell peppers, and that is really growing for us, with Divemex in Mexico and partners in Canada,” he said.

 “We have increased volume out of South America and New Zealand on apples. We had our biggest year ever on Jazz out of the Pacific Northwest.”

Oppenheimer also its getting into the organic berry category for the first time, Ford said.

“We’re going to be in position to have organic blackberries, blueberries and strawberries that we’ll be offering this year,” he said.

“We now have blackberries from Mexico. We’ll start new-crop strawberries in May and blueberries in June out of the Pacific Northwest.”

 

Availability key

Sales statistics show that consumers buy organics when they can find them, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing with Yakima, Wash.-based fruit grower-shipper Sage Fruit Co.

“We see that apples and pears — they were a small percentage of our manifest a few years ago, and they’re up to 10% to 15% of our total sales now,” he said.

If a product has an organic option, it will sell, said Alex Jackson Berkley, senior account manager with Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc.

“We’re seeing a wide range of clients looking for anything organic they can get their hands on at an affordable cost,” she said.

Consistent availability is important to retail customers, said Brian Vertrees, director of business development-West with Salinas, Calif.-based berry grower-shipper Naturipe Farms LLC.

“Best in class retailers are taking the time to pre-plan their organic berry sales strategy,” he said. “They know being in every week is critical to building their organic program and that berries should be considered a foundation organic item that they have every day.”

Availability even trumps price, Vertrees said.

“Even when the market goes up, they know their customer base will pay a premium to have an organic berry option,” he said.

“There is less price sensitivity at retail within the organic category. Organic consumers typically come from a higher income demographic and they also shop more frequently, two factors that justify catering to them.”

 

Missed opportunities

There are no guarantees, though, said CMI’s Lutz.

“What’s interesting is that even though the Washington (state) had a 37% increase in organic apple production, many retail organizations completely missed the opportunity,” Lutz said.

He pointed to Nielsen supermarket scan data as showing, for the first six months of Washington’s last production season, the top 10 organic retail supermarkets in the U.S. saw volume and dollar increases of more than 30%. 

“If you look at the bottom-performing organic apple retailers in the U.S., every single one of these organizations had a volume decline that exceeded 15% — that’s huge,” Lutz said.

“Supply is up, volume sold is up, retail price is down, yet the Nielsen data shows more than 20 supermarket chains completely missed the opportunity and saw double-digit declines in organic apple sales.”

In other words, Lutz said, organic sales increases aren’t guaranteed just because more supply is available. 

“It really takes an organic ‘program’ that focuses not only on the product, but getting the assortment, packaging, and pricing right, which is exactly where we are focused with our Daisy Girl organics,” he said.

 

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