In my time as the Food Institute’s fresh produce analyst, one trend never seems to slow down. That trend would be the rising consumer demand for organic products in general, but especially in the fresh produce sector. And in 2017, consumers pushed that trend to a new record.
Organic fresh produce sales reached almost $5 billion 2017, an 8% increase from 2016, according to the Organic Produce Network and Nielsen. Broken down by category, organic fruit dollar sales jumped 12.6% from 2016, while organic vegetables increased 4% by dollar sales. Volume sales of organic produce reached nearly 2 billion-lbs., a 10% increase from the year prior. Organic fruit volume sales increased 12.6% during the timeframe, while organic vegetable sales increased by 6% in 2017 when compared to 2016.
These numbers, in context, are particularly impressive. It’s not like 2017 was the first year that consumers were introduced to organic products. To see a 10% increase in volume sales when compared to the prior year is particularly interesting. My question is simple: why?
Perhaps the question is simpler than the answer, but Nielsen and the Organic Produce Network did provide some insight. Organic berry sales helped to bolster the organic fruit market, with a 22% increase by volume. Bananas and apples trailed closely behind in volume. Dollar sales of organic berries, including strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, topped $565 million in 2017.
“What’s most impressive about these two categories is the growth they were able to achieve in organic despite stagnant or declining conventional fresh produce sales. This also highlights that even the most mature categories have opportunity to grow the consumer base and sales through an organic offering,” said Matt Seeley, co-founder and CEO, of Organic Produce Network. “Not many product groups can claim double-digit growth in today’s competitive environment which reinforces the power and importance of organic produce.”
“Potatoes, grapes and citrus all rank in the top 10 for conventional sales but fail to crack the top 10 in organic sales which shows that some categories still have opportunity for an increased market presence,” said Matt Lally, an associate director at Nielsen. “Understanding and setting pricing strategies between conventional and organic varieties is critical for success. People will pay a premium for organic, but at some point they will trade to conventional or out of the category all together.”