Organic meat is booming. In the past year, organic meat sales have grown 37% versus two years ago, outpacing the meat department, which grew 20%, according to Nielsen data.

Although organic food is the largest growing sector of the food industry, it still only accounts for 5% of the total dollars spent on food annually.

In NCS’s 2021 brand awareness survey, consumers report looking to retailers, second only to farmers, for trusted information. That means retailers have a responsibility to educate their shoppers about the values and benefits of eating organic, and to make these products available to consumers who value their health, animal welfare, and sustainability.

When it comes to organic meet, interest has been rising annually.

Jenny Burns, senior director of innovation and brand equity for Applegate, Bridgewater Township, N.J., noted that when it comes to the meat shelves at the supermarket, the industry has long seen brands and retailers developing organic versions of the top selling conventional items.

“This is a popular strategy as it offers consumers more choice and retains the high-value shoppers looking for elevated standards,” she said. “More recently, however, we’ve seen a trend towards more unique or innovative items launched exclusively as organic. This is exciting because it signals that organic is a compelling and motivating selling point for them even if they are not familiar with the product or already purchasing it.”

“We’ve certainly seen this reflected back to us from our consumers shopping the meat aisles,” Burns said. “People tend to scrutinize the labels of their grocery items after major life events such as the birth of a child or a health setback. The organic label serves as their shorthand for the spectrum of benefits impacting them personally but also their community and the world around them.”

Kay Cornelius, general manager of Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats, Westminster, Colo., noted organic and grass-fed meats remain very strong from the standpoint of consumer interest.

“Even now as the pandemic becomes ‘end-demic,’ consumers are still going to the grocery store at a higher click, and their meat purchases reflect that,” she said. “They’ve tried to cook different things during the pandemic and they want to stick with that. We’re seeing more organic cuts sticking at retailers because people are demanding it.”


Trending up

Aaron Corbett, CEO of North Country Smokehouse, Claremont, N.H., noted sugar-free proteins have been trending for the last few years and consumer demand continues to grow.

In addition, organic consumers are becoming increasingly more aware of the regenerative aspects of farming and are looking to buy from brands that don’t just check the non-GMO organic boxes, but who produce foods through sustainable practices that respect not only the livestock but also the land.

“Consumers understand the role they play in the food system, and how the choices they make impact the soil, air and water,” Corbett said. “This is a trend we’ll continue to see, and we’re well aligned because we’ve been doing it this way for years. In many cases, producers see an opportunity and pivot to meet the needs of the consumer. In our case, we’ve been operating in the best interest of a sustainable future for the last 16 years, and we’re happy to see the market begin to adopt a more sustainable food-philosophy.”

Anecdotally, Burns has noticed increased popularity of organic across meat categories within more conventional retailers—those not specialty or natural, over the last couple years.

“Many of our key accounts are working to expand their organic assortment to meet rising consumer demand, both in their brick and mortar stores and online,” she said.

Cornelius noted organic meat tends to be boosted by younger generations typically—millennials and Gen Z and checks a lot of the boxes for those consumers concerning health and ecological issues.

In an effort to offer more variety, Panorama is launching a new 80/20 organic ground beef product to appeal to cost-conscious shoppers, and also a restaurant-style Chef's Blend chuck/brisket/short-rib Ground Beef blend for more adventurous diners. 


Pandemic performance

The organic category performed well during the pandemic, as consumers were not only preparing more home meals, but looking for higher quality, unique products to liven up their meals.

“For North Country particularly, the supply chain issues many producers faced presented a real opportunity for us,” Corbett said. “Because we own our very organic family farms, as well as work with a network of farmer partners under our umbrella, we were able to step in and guarantee fulfillment at a time when many other suppliers were having immense challenges keeping the shelves stocked.”

Burns noted that COVID taught many that a strong defense against disease is one’s own immune system.

“People are interested in food that builds immunity or at least doesn’t compromise it. This equates to clean food raised without pesticides, antibiotics, and other additives and preservatives,” she said.


New and improved

North Country has a large offering of organic products ranging from bacon to sausage, deli meat and low and slow smoked ham.

“The pork is sourced from our very own vertically integrated, organic family-farms,” Corbett said. “That means we have full control over the process and can offer our customers and consumers complete transparency.”

Over the last few years, the company has launched several new organic meat products that are the first-of-their-kind available in the marketplace, including Organic Canadian bacon, which can be found at upscale retailers across the country; and organic ham steak and organic petit ham.

“Not only are we offering new products with organic attributes, which until recently have been impossible to find on store shelves, we’re focused on modest and convenient pack sizes, so consumers can enjoy flavors they love without having to bite off more than they can chew,” Corbett said.

Burns noted that Applegate’s WELL CARVED line is the perfect example of taking popular items consumers crave and then not only elevating the quality of ingredients used to make them, but finding ways to make the product unique, such as pairing meat with plant blends.

For instance, WELL CARVED burgers and meatballs are made exclusively with organic meat and vegetables and offer consumers a way to enjoy real, clean meat in tandem with vegetables that promote health and a healthier planet.

“We are also about to launch a new organic snacking item called Applegate Organics Genoa Salami Bites,” Burns said. “Our traditional organic Genoa Salami is one of our more popular items and, with snacking continuing to be a huge food occasion, we hope making a version that is portable and bite-sized will satisfy the needs of consumers looking for organic snacking options that are also a good source of protein.”


Marketing matters

The more consumers demand organic food, the faster it will be produced to meet that demand.

Corbett feels stores can do their part in increasing organic meat knowledge by making information easily accessible with store signage and case display, plus utilizing its company website and digital assets to tell the story of where the meat is coming from.

“It’s also important to make sure the USDA Organic seal is evident and that shoppers understand the credibility of the claims labeled this way, to know that farms are third-party audited and have proven their programs and claims to be true,” Corbett said. “We’ve seen some retailers go as far as to hold webinars or instore cooking demonstrations so consumers can engage with brands first-hand and ask questions. That’s a wonderful approach.”

Panorama knows that organic meat is expensive for some consumers, so it makes sure that it’s in the right size package and work closely with retailers to promote it.

“If a retailer doesn’t know a consumer has it at the store, you’ve missed the boat,” Cornelius said. “We provide free magazines in a stand that have recipes and create a destination for shoppers who want to try the products.”

Applegate offers certified organic items in every product category that it offers and helps support retailers to both expand assortments and fill gaps in their existing sets with items that are highly differentiated and will increase total basket dollars.

In order to better market organic meat, stores should group organic meats together at eye level and merchandise next to conventional meats, where there is high foot traffic, Burns said.

“To help differentiate, signage and shelf tags should be used to call out which products are organic meats,” she added. “When it comes to e-commerce, organic meats should be featured prominently on retailers' platforms, since the organic meat shopper has a much higher propensity to buy groceries online than the average shopper.”