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Organic Food Exhibition|What’s trending in organic produce

2024.04.25

According to Organic Food Exhibition, growth has slowed for retail organic produce sales over the last couple of years, prompting retailers to prepare for flat or slightly reduced demand for 2024.

 

Circana OmniMarket Integrated Fresh data for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 3, 2023, shows that total dollar sales for organic produce inched up 0.6%, while conventional produce sales grew 2%. By volume, organic produce dropped 0.8%, while conventional produce remained flat.

 

“Organic produce had a below-average year in 2023,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics. “After years of robust growth, sales had been slowing down ever since the start of the pandemic. This continued in what was an extremely difficult marketplace with a lot of pressure on consumers' financial power.”

 

Despite the overall volume decrease in organic produce, Roerink noted the organic fresh fruit category increased volume sales by 1.2%, effectively outperforming conventional fruit.

 

“This was due to strong organic citrus volume growth of 5%,” she said, pointing to cruciferous vegetables and herbs as additional areas of growth.

 

Retailers have also observed a slowdown in sales growth for organic produce.

 

“Over the last few years demand has picked up a lot, but it's kind of leveled off now,” said Marc Goldman, produce director at Morton Williams Supermarkets in the New York metropolitan area. “It's not growing as fast as it was.”

 

Brandon Bentley, category business manager for vegetables at Amherst, N.Y.-based Tops Friendly Markets, said that organic produce sales have held steady.

 

“But they are no longer outpacing what we’ve been used to,” he said. “This year will likely maintain the slightly downward trend.”

 

Not all retailers experienced a downturn, though. Oliver's Market in Santa Rosa, Calif., reported a good year for organic produce, despite weather challenges for local farms.

 

“It appears that we will end up around 4% in organics this year,” said Michael Peterson, produce coordinator for Oliver’s Market. “We are extremely pleased with that figure because we actually had very modest increases in our retail pricing and saw real growth in units or tonnage. However, after meeting with our vendor and farm community for our 2023 recap, it appears that we may be the outlier compared to their other customers.”

 

Andrew McGregor, senior director of produce at Misfits Market, a direct-to-consumer online grocery platform for organic and sustainably sourced food, said he is optimistic about demand for organic produce in 2024.

 

With the company’s recent acquisition of Imperfect Foods, “we are better poised and positioned to continue offering organics as a majority of our assortment,” he said. “We’ve got lots of cool and unique organic offerings in the hopper, like red napa cabbage and koginut squash.”

 

TOP TRENDS FOR 2024

 

Regarding recent organic produce trends, Peterson pointed to consumer interest in locally grown fruits and vegetables as a carryover into 2024.

 

“We highlight these farms when their produce is in season and it seems very successful for our business,” he said.

 

Organic Trade Association co-CEO Tom Chapman said many trends that began with conventional produce, such as new varieties, are now crossing over into organics.

 

“This is particularly visible in apples, but it goes across the board in tomatoes, citrus, grapes, berries and melons,” he said.

 

Pre-packaged organic greens and salads will remain popular with shoppers, Chapman predicted, and carrots and mushrooms will continue their upward sales trajectory as more growers convert from conventional to organic farming.

 

Goldman also sees a bright future for packaged organic produce.

 

“People appreciate the package because they feel it’s a little safer, and I think that’s going to continue,” he said.

 

The trend is beneficial to retailers, he added, because there is a risk with loose produce of cashiers mistakenly ringing-up organic items as conventional.

 

McGregor said he expects to see continued trends toward healthy eating and family wellness in 2024.

 

“Organic salads and greens, wet vegetables and other scratch-cooking ingredients are top of mind this

time of year. I’m also expecting customers to lean into organically grown offerings of seasonal snacking items,” such as mandarins, berries and apples, he said.

 

BESTSELLERS IN ORGANIC

 

Circana data for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 3, 2023, shows the biggest year-over-year dollar sales gains in the fruit category for organic tangerines (57%), mandarins (48%) and cherries (34%). Among organic vegetables, pumpkins (434%), jicama (260%), corn (25%) and garlic (21%) had the largest dollar sales growth.

 

Bentley acknowledged the popularity of organic citrus.

 

“Mandarins seem to be the hot button at the moment,” he said. “Supply feels good, and pricing is promotable.”

In contrast, he said, organic tomatoes have seen a decline.

 

“Supply is very tough, which can only hurt sales year over year. In general, tomatoes have not been as strong as they were during the COVID years,” he said.

 

At Oliver's Market, Peterson saw a sales spike for chicory lettuces, comparing their popularity to that of Little Gems in previous years.

 

“I think they have just been underrated for so long in the lettuce world,” he said. “With over five varieties offered locally and more going in the ground this year, Oliver's will continue to seek out and offer a wide variety.”

 

Organic dragon fruit — especially the flavorful pink and yellow varieties — is also on the rise, he said, as new local plantings bring prices down.

 

INFLATION’S IMPACT

 

In late December, the Federal Reserve predicted a softening for inflation in 2024 to 2.4%. Even so, its impacts — though reduced — will likely continue in the produce aisle.

 

“Organic produce has been recovering from supply fluctuations and inflation, but both trends have flattened in 2023,” Chapman said. “This is setting the category up for a stronger 2024.”

 

In The Packer’s Organic Fresh Trends 2024 survey, which polled more than 1,100 U.S. consumers in mid-October of 2023 about their organic buying habits, 13% of respondents said they were unwilling to pay any premium for organic produce. This is up from 11% who gave that answer in the previous year’s survey.

 

Even so, buying organic produce remains important to younger shoppers. When asked by Organic Fresh Trends 2024 about what type of produce they typically buy, nearly half of those in the 30-39 age group cited organic, compared with just 22% for participants aged 60 or older. If money were no object, a large majority of respondents across age groups said they would choose organic for both fresh fruit and vegetables.

 

“While inflation has moderated, it is the sustained impact of prices being 30% to 35% higher than they were pre-pandemic that is causing the continued pressure on units,” Roerink said. “Consumers often believe that a drawback of organic is that it doesn’t last as long as conventional produce, so their focus on freshness and reducing waste may also play into the decision,” she said. “This is where educating consumers about supply chain, at-home storage and freshness is very important.”

 

With price cited the top reason that consumers forgo buying organic, Roerink added, “Sales promotions could become a powerful driver of increased organic engagement,” along with consumer education about soil health and any nutritional advantages that can help justify spending additional money on organic.

 

Merchandising and promotion

 

Retailers plan to keep highlighting organic produce in 2024 through promotions and merchandising.

 

“We will continue to drive sales by having aggressive weekly ads that give Oliver’s customers a chance to try new organic items or stock up on their favorites,” Peterson said. “Our important in-store signage lands right next to the product, so our customers can learn about the product or the farm or both.”

 

At Morton Williams, Goldman features three organic items each week in the markets’ circular ad and maintains dedicated organic sections in all stores.

 

Tops issues a printed advertising weekly that includes organic produce promotions, and it creates strategic displays for organic items.

 

“It is not always about displaying organic cucumbers with conventional cucumbers,” Bentley said. “In fact, it is about displaying organic cucumbers near the organic salads. It’s about the natural tie-ins to fill up the customers basket.”

 

Misfits Market emphasizes “rescued” organic produce in promotions whenever possible, McGregor said, and the company has seen success recently in highlighting hard-to-find specialty items like organic broccoli leaves and sweet limes.

 

“We’re open to all sorts of creative partnerships with suppliers that drive discovery and value,” he said. 

 

Organic Food Exhibition learned that in 2024, the Organic Trade Association will focus on its ongoing consumer education efforts. “We will be continuing to break down the comprehensive organic seal into claims that consumers understand and value, and we will continue our research on customers’ attitudes toward organic,” Chapman said.

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