According to the 2019 Supermarket Perimeter Consumer Fresh Food Shopping Trends Study, two-thirds of consumers buy organic fruits and vegetables, and 52% are willing to pay more for it.
Sixty-two percent of U.S. shoppers feel that organic produce is better for their health, and 41% think that organic fruits and vegetables are worth the extra cost. And 39% of these shoppers think organic tastes better than conventional produce.
With half of customers polled saying it's important for supermarkets to offer organic fruits and vegetables, suppliers offer tips to prep your organic offering for the year.
For 2020, Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bautista, California, plans to return its focus to its core product lines – most importantly, its spring mix blend, which fittingly will be updated in the spring.
"This blend still represents 20%+ of the category and the new recipe will give it a taste, texture and quality boost that will reignite consumer excitement about that item," says Jessica Harris, product manager for the largest producer of organic salads in the U.S.
Overall, Earthbound Farm is adding more multi-leaf lettuces to its blends.
"These are varieties that grow as a whole head, instead of individual leaves, and stay in the ground almost twice as long as our baby leaf lettuces," Harris says. "This allows them to develop more crunchy texture and sweeter taste."
The multi-leaf lettuce that Earthbound Farm is most excited about is its red baby butter, which launched in 2018 and Harris says is a star on its own and mixed into some of the company's salad blends.
"Look for Earthbound Farm to return to our roots with some heritage branding hitting the stores in early 2020," she adds.
Demand for organic fruit surging
Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Washington, recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of growing organic fruit under its Artisan Organics brand.
"Not many can say they've been organic that long, but it was something our founder believed in and a big focus that his grandsons, who lead the company today, have continued to advocate for," says Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager for Stemilt.
Stemilt heavily promotes its Artisan Organics apples during the winter and spring seasons, and nearly all year long. The company also markets its Artisan Organics cherries, peaches and nectarines in the summer months.
About 40% of Stemilt's Honeycrisp apple crop is grown and certified organic, Shales says.
"We also have a good share of organic fuji, pinata, pink lady and SweeTango apples (though SweeTango will be out of season until it harvests again in August 2020)," she adds.
Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Watsonville, California-based Well-Pict Inc. says this year, the company will be offering retailers its organic strawberries packaged in 1-pound and 2-pound clamshell containers.
"For winter and spring, we will offer our organic strawberries from Florida (our first year doing so) as well as organic strawberries from our fields in Oxnard, California," he says. "So far, both regions are experiencing good growing conditions."
Grabowski says organic produce sales are still going strong, though they have leveled off a bit from the large sales gains made three to five years ago.
From January until April, The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, will focus on promoting its marquee-brand organic apples JAZZ and Envy.
"Both of these delicious varieties have great supply and have had a tremendous growing season last year in terms of the fruit coming to certification," says Karin Gardner, executive director of marketing for Oppy.
"In 2020, we are looking forward to year-round supply of Ocean Spray organic strawberries and blueberries, as well as a year-round organic hothouse category with Divemex and OriginO, and of course, our always exceptional Zespri kiwifruit program," she adds.
Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit, Yakima, Washington, says this year, the company will be promoting several organic commodities including apples, pears, cherries and stone fruit.
"Currently, our focus remains on apples and pears, given we are only in the early part of the 2020 season; harvest for these items recently concluded," he says, featuring varieties such as red delicious, granny smith, gala, fuji, pink lady and Honeycrisp apples; and bosc, anjou and bartlett pears.
New this season, Sage Fruit has partnered with Apeel Sciences.
"In doing this, our organic apples are treated with Apeel, a plant-based solution, to help reduce moisture loss on the retail shelf and provide consumers with a better, more crisp and flavorful eating experience," Sinks says. "We are treating numerous mainstream organic apple varieties including gala, fuji, Honeycrisp, granny smith and pink lady. We're the first, and currently the only, apple shipper to offering Apeel-treated product."
In 2020, Los Angeles-based Giumarra Cos. plans to heavily promote organic apples, avocados, bell peppers, pears, squash and tomatoes, says Gary Caloroso, business development director for the company.
"Organic avocados, bell peppers, squash and tomatoes are ideal to promote during the winter and the spring," he says. "The winter is also a good time for our organic kiwifruit. We have great success with our organic apples and pears – particularly during the spring and summer."
Mayra Velazquez de Leon, president and CEO for Organics Unlimited Inc., San Diego, says current consumer trends are all about sustainability and social responsibility, taking care of the environment and our health.
"Buying organic has become a way of life and Organics Unlimited is sustainable across the board: We grow organic, have the lowest carbon footprint and are socially responsible with our GROW label," she says about the organic banana wholesaler with year-round production.
Shales of Stemilt says the growth in volume of organic Honeycrisp is allowing for active promotion of the consumer favorite.
The company offers its long-standing 3-pound pouch bag program – Lil Snappers – which markets kid-size fruit to parents and kids, and a 5-pound pouch bag for Organic Apple Lovers.
"The industry too often promotes organic apples in smaller bag sizes to keep retail prices down," she says. "With a larger crop of organics and room to develop this sector of the apple category, it's time to promote organic apples in larger quantities and these two bag sizes are great vehicles to do that. Organic shoppers are big purchasers of produce, so let's get them to buy more of a popular fruit like apples!"
Envy apples also gained significant traction in the past year, says Gardner of Oppy, and for good reason, considering they ranked first in flavor, texture, aroma and appearance when tested against several products in the category, according to independent research in April 2019.
"Go to theultimateapple.com to learn more," she says. "Envy also has a great supply this year to meet this fantastic demand and popularity."
The overall demand for organic fresh produce has remained strong, says Sinks of Sage Fruit.
"Therefore, we have made investments to expand our organic program," he adds. "Not only are we planting new acreage of organic orchards, but we are actively transitioning our conventional orchards."
Organic Honeycrisp apples remain a consumer favorite, Sinks says.
"However, shoppers also are looking to newer apple varieties that offer a broader flavor profile than what we have traditionally found at the grocery store," he adds.
Consumers want organic apples and pears available to them year-round, and Giumarra aims to meet that need by offering imported options for them, Caloroso says.
"We did very well with our organic imported apples varieties – cripps pink, granny smith, royal gala and imported organic pears – bartlett, autumn bartlett, d 'anjou and Packham," he says.
Harris of Earthbound Farm says convenience seems to be the trend that's driving most produce sales right now – but it's more about ease without sacrifice than about single-serve or heat-and-eat.
"We are seeing a younger, more diverse population base that is shopping in different ways than before," she says. "Our greens and vegetables are the perfect answer to that kind of shopping."
Organic sales are following the clean living/healthy lifestyle trends that are popular today, Grabowski of Well-Pict says, especially with the younger generations.
"And as usual, social media plays an important part in all of that," he adds. "New food recipes, diets and product information (good or bad) are all a daily staple of one's electronic media reading."
Promotions go big
With a larger crop of apples this year – including organic apples – Stemilt is seeing retailers go bigger with their organic displays to move more volume, Shales says.
"Regular promotions with multiple organic varieties on-ad at least once a month is a great step to take to increase organic sales," she says. "We have many vehicles at their disposal including high-graphic cartons and pop-up display bins that call out Artisan Organics."
Caloroso of Giumarra says eye-catching, theme-oriented displays work well for promoting organic produce.
"A retailer could cross-promote our organic avocados with organic onions and tomatoes – particularly during big celebratory events like football games, holidays, etc.," he says.
Sinks of Sage Fruit agrees, saying cross-merchandising with healthier options is ideal for organic produce items.
"Organic buyers see their choices as being a better alternative to conventional options," he says. "Perhaps try merchandising with steel-cut oats for a breakfast idea, or with other items in the produce department for a flavorful salad. Pair the displays with recipes and give the consumer an idea on how to use the items."
Harris of Earthbound Farm says consumers are always looking for more information on where their food comes from, and they expect more transparency from organic brands.
Making sure there is plenty of informational signage about a department's organic produce, whether an integrated or segregated set, is key to giving shoppers the opportunity to choose, she adds.
"Retailers can best promote their organic items by connecting their shoppers back to the farm as well as providing recipe inspiration," Harris says. "By answering the question: 'What do you want to eat?' at the shelf, with appetite-appealing photos and recipes, retailers are also able to build the basket with purchase across the store."