Organic products in general have been available for decades but they're more accessible than they've ever been the past few years, according to The Nielsen Co.
As their popularity continues to steadily grow, organics are no longer a fad but an "age-old growth driver that's here to stay," said an end-of-year 2018 Nielsen organics report.
Millennials spent 14 percent more on organic products in 2018 than they did the previous year, and Hispanic shoppers increased their purchases of organic products more than any other ethnic group, spending more than 13 percent more compared to the previous year, Nielsen said.
Two produce items made Nielsen's top-selling categories among organic products in 2018: apples and carrots.
"Organic produce tends to show strong growth year over year, and fruits and vegetables continue to be one of the largest organic food categories," says Megan Schulz, director of communications for the Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles.
"Organics are of ongoing importance to today's shoppers across a broad range of demographics, with younger consumers and households with children leading the charge. According to the Organic Trade Association, over half of households purchase organic produce."
Mayra Velazquez de Leon, president and CEO for Organics Unlimited Inc., San Diego, says organic produce continues trending across the board, with rising interest particularly among health-conscious moms and millennials, who Nielsen research has shown are not price-sensitive when it comes to consuming the healthy option.
Research also shows bananas are the top item for household penetration, with organic bananas making up 1 percent of organic produce sales altogether, she says.
Organic fruit sales have been experiencing double digit growth year after year, says Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Wash.
"Organic apples have grown to the point that they are 10 percent of all apple sales already, and growth is still occurring near 10 percent annually," he says. "The millennial parents will be a huge market in the near future as their young children reach the 4-to-5-year age."
One of the organic products Stemilt markets is Lil Snapper kids-size apples, which comes in a resealable, 3-pound bag with a grab-and-go handle, nine bags per display-ready carton.
"This line is super popular with parents with kids and is a great lunch item for all ages," Pepperl says. "The growth of this line has been fantastic."
Chris Ford, organics and foodservice category manager for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, says the company recently introduced 1-pound clamshells of organic Zespri SunGold yellow-flesh kiwifruit grown in small volumes in Italy.
"SunGold originated in New Zealand and is enjoying exciting demand and increased distribution year-on-year," he says, adding that growing the fruit in Italy lengthens its season through the winter.
Another current organic focus at Oppy is its line of Jazz, Envy and Pacific Rose apples.
"Available in bulk and high-graphic, 2-pound pouch bags, these three premium apples deliver intense flavor and eating experience during this key season when regional supplies of other apples are winding down," Ford says.
Sage Fruit Co., Yakima, Wash., offers a full line of organic apples and pears, both of which include bulk and pouch bag options.
"On the apples, we're seeing peak sizing of 100-113 on gala and granny; all other varieties have been slightly larger at an 80-88," says Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit. "As far as pears go, across the board, we're seeing peak sizing in the 90-100 range. Our pouch bags for both apples and pears are packed as 2-pounders."
During the summer months, Sage Fruit also offers organic apricots, peaches and nectarines.
"Like apples and pears, we pack both bulk and bag options," Sinks says. "Organic apricot bags are packed as a 1-pound catch weight, whereas the peaches and nectarines are packed as a 2-pound weight."
Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, Calif., says the company supplies premium, proprietary organic strawberries year-round, in 1- and 2-pound clamshells.
Traditionally, he said 1-pound clamshells have been the most popular, but the company has seen a rising demand for the 2-pound option.
"Women with children are the foremost strawberry consumer, but we also see millennials leaning into organic produce," Grabowski says. "People want to eat healthy, feel healthy and start their year off right. Organic produce lends perfectly to this mindset -- people see 'organic' as a health-conscious choice."
Promoting organics using print ads, store apps and email is an effective way to target consumers, says Sinks.
"Additionally, once consumers enter the store, making organics a point of emphasis in the produce department (and across the store, really) helps capture their attention: signage, sales and cross-promotions with other departments," he says.
Ford says during the first quarter of 2019, Oppy will exclusively bring peak volumes of organic sweet colored bell and mini peppers from greenhouse grower Divemex.
"Notably, between Divemex and pioneer British Columbia organic greenhouse producer OriginO, Oppy is able to supply organic sweet bells and long English cucumbers virtually year-round," Ford says.
Oppy is running a merchandising contest for Divemex peppers through mid-March that includes the grower's organic and conventional lines.
"The Divemex 'PepperUp' competition invites produce managers to construct large, creative displays of Divemex-branded sweet bell and mini peppers in bulk and assorted pack styles," Ford says.
The builder of the best display will cash in on a $2,000 grand prize, he says. The second-place display earns $1,000 and third will receive $500. The first 50 entrants can select either a $25 Subway or Starbucks gift card as well.
Organic produce suppliers offered a variety of ideas to best cross-promote their products with items from other areas of the supermarket.
Pepperl recommends cross-merchandising organic apples with cheese, crackers, dips and other healthy snacks. He adds that the company offers an organic bag of apples called "Fresh Blenders," which is aimed at the juicing crowd.
"This bag has great fruit that is a value due to some cosmetic issues that does not affect the quality but does offer a value in price," Pepperl says.
Grabowski also says he'd promote berries in a display with items to make a full healthy meal or snack, like a smoothie. "The display could feature fresh organic strawberries, leafy greens, bananas, etc. to create a picture for the consumer of ways they can enjoy fresh organic produce," he says.
Sinks recommends cross-promoting the company's organic fruit with items including breakfast foods such as oatmeal or cereal, ingredients for desserts (potentially with gluten-free options) or nut butters for a healthy snack. "The possibilities are wide open," he says.
As ever, today's shopper is a busy one, so anything retailers can do to create convenience tends to be effective, says Ford.
This includes offering bagged and bulk options; cross-merchandising with ingredients of easy, healthy recipes; making popular items simple to find with large, eye-catching -- and secondary -- displays seasonally positioned inside and outside of the produce department, he adds.
"We always see success with the berry patch displays -- a big, fragrant, cart-stopping display right in front of the produce department draws consumers in and helps the department as a whole," says Grabowski.
Sinks says that when possible, it's best to display organic apples in refrigeration. "It helps keep the items fresh, especially since they don't have additional wax to help prevent moisture loss.”
George Harter, vice president of marketing for CMI Orchards, Wenatchee, Wash., says offering organic apples in 2-pound pouch bags helps differentiate them from conventional product, which reduces shrink for retailers by eliminating confusion at checkout.
And finally, if retailers are looking to really move organic produce, they can try pricing it on promotion at traditionally conventional prices, he says. For example, an organic Ambrosia apple could be put on sale at the conventional pricing of two for $5.
"Try promoting organic product at that price," Harter says. "Make sure to keep the price spread between organic and conventional $1 apart and customers will find their way back to regularly priced items if they really like it."