Organic produce sales have been inching upward annually for years, and no one in the industry seems to know when that growth will plateau.
Some thought the economic downturn that kicked off in 2008 might put the brakes on the category’s upward spiral, said Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc. But that didn’t happen.
After sputtering for two or three years, the growth took off again.
“It has been growing steadily every year,” Grabowski said. “I don’t see it ending for a while.”
In the state of Washington, abundance supplies of apples and pears are transitioning to organic right now, so organic supplies “are definitely going to keep growing,” said Loren Foss, organic manager for Wenatchee-based CMI Orchards LLC, which markets the Daisy Girl brand.
How long that transition will continue depends on how well markets do, he said.
As organic tonnage increased, there was some concern that it would be difficult to move all the fruit, he said.
“But it’s actually been quite smooth thus far,” Foss said. “We’ve had substantial gains the last two years as a state.”
Scott Mabs, chief executive officer for Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif., said he expects organic growth to begin to slow, either from “the struggle of being able to supply the demand in certain commodities or the reality that at some point you are going to reach saturation.”
“There’s only 100% to work with,” he said. “At some point, there will be saturation.”
It’s difficult to determine when that saturation point will be reached, he said.
“It’s a consumer-driven question, and consumer behavior is hard to predict,” Mabs said.
“Organic has become much more mainstream,” said Bill Litvin, senior vice president sales and national accounts manager for Giorgio Fresh Co., Blandon, Pa.
“It is very difficult to tell how long organic sales will continue to grow at the current rate,” he said, “but for now, we are continuing to see steady growth in the category.”
“The organic market has its limits,” said Ricardo Crisantes, general manager of Wholesum Family Farms, Nogales, Ariz.
Plateau in sight?
For the first time, he said he’s heard growers of leafy greens and salad mix talk about growth plateauing.
Organic produce has attracted the attention of a number of growers, he said, and many have started production or at least launched organic trials in recent years.
But that growth can’t go on forever.
“There’s a limit,” he said. “I don’t see it in the next five years, but I could be wrong.”
Addie Pobst, organic integrity and logistics coordinator for Viva Tierra Organic Inc., Mount Vernon, Wash., also believes the growth in organics will plateau once demand has been met. But she doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” she said. “We’ve had strong growth.”
At Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif., organic sales manager Darrell Beyer thinks the organic category will continue to grow.
“As product becomes more available, it will be used in more and more items,” he said.
Brianna Shales, communications manager for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers Inc., said better-quality products and a strong economy have helped spur the growth of organics.
“The economy is in a good place right now, and that always seems to be a good match for organic sales,” she said.
“Shoppers from Gen Y and Gen Z are very focused on eating healthy and plant-based foods,” Shales said.
“For many, organic fits into that.”
CMI’s Foss said millennials’ affinity for organics will help the category grow for the immediate future.
“The younger generation is paying more attention to what they’re putting into their bodies in terms of chemicals and things of that sort as well as what’s going into the ground,” he said.
Millennial consumers and younger customers “are kind of tuned to organics,” Well-Pict’s Grabowski said.
Crisantes of Wholesum Family Farms said research and development into improving yields and maintaining quality is key.
“That’s what we need to be price competitive and still be in business,” he said.