The demand for organic fresh fruits and vegetables continues to climb, as consumers become more conscious of how their food is raised and what they’re putting in their bodies.
Organic volume now accounts for almost 7% of total produce volume, having grown 16% compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Nielsen data.
Over the past few years, the demand for organic has reached an all-time high, said Kirk Teske, vice president, product management and sales, fresh-cut, North America, for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Fresh Del Monte.
The recent expansion of Del Monte’s organic fresh-cut fruit offerings is one example of how the company is keeping up with that demand, Teske said.
“It’s allowed us not only to expand our business but also diversify our mix of produce and introduce unique SKUs,” he said. “It’s worth noting that our organic SKUs remain high in demand in many of our distribution markets as we continue to expand our selections.”
The increased demand for organic produce, Teske said, is driven by an increase in the number of “conscientious consumers,” along with improved farming practices that yield more organic crops.
Consumers are realigning their purchase patterns to incorporate key organic fruits and vegetables in their purchases, said Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer for Leamington, Ont.-based greenhouse grower Pure Flavor.
“We continue to see a general uptick in organic tomato consumption, and as a vertically integrated greenhouse vegetable grower with an extensive organic line of products, we are effectively meeting the demands of the consumer,” Veillon said. “Consumer demand for more convenient fresh organic snacking options has continued to grow and doesn’t show any signs of stopping.”
Pure Flavor increasingly hears directly from consumers complimenting products like its Organic Aurora Bites Mini Sweet Peppers, which are available year-round, he added.
“Organic demand has been, excitingly, steadily increasing, even as we emerge from the pandemic,” said Aaron Quon, executive director of greenhouse and Canadian category development for Vancouver, B.C.-based Oppy. “Organics are keeping up well to conventional sales.”
Oppy’s core organic items include peppers, tomatoes-on-the-vine and cucumbers.
In recent years, the company has increased volumes of organic peppers, mini peppers and mini cucumbers. Oppy has also introduced trials of heirloom tomatoes through its OriginO brand, whose president, Raymond Wong, has extensive expertise in bio-resource and agricultural engineering that set the standard for the highest quality organic greenhouse vegetables, Quon said.
Oppy has also added more Fair Trade Certified items through the Divemex brand, the first bell pepper grower in North America to be Fair Trade Certified.
Pineapple and watermelon take the summer lead
Del Monte’s current organic fruit lineup includes top sellers like mango, pineapple, watermelon and apples — those fruits, Teske said, offer what Del Monte believes is the greatest return in sales. Pineapples and watermelon are typically the top spring and summer sellers.
Organic pineapple was included in Del Monte’s promotions for its Pinkglow Pineapple on Mother’s Day and will be included in Father’s Day and National Pineapple Day (June 27) promotions.
Newcomers to the lineup include fresh-cut apples and, on the vegetable side, fresh-cut organic butternut squash. Organic coconut is another product that has become increasingly popular recently for Del Monte.
In order to fully take advantage of the surge in demand for organic, retailers need to clearly differentiate the more expensive organic from conventional produce, Teske said, which can easily be done with container labeling and instore signage.
As organic availability and production volume in fresh-cut facilities increase, the price gap will steadily decrease, Teske predicts. That said, there will always be a price gap between organic and conventional.
“It’s due to differences in growing costs, availability and farming techniques. During production, organic produce must also be completely isolated from the main volume of conventional fresh-cut produce.”
One advantage of Del Monte’s fresh-cut organic offerings, Teske said, is that fruit is cut to order prior to distribution, thanks to the company’s many distribution centers.
“Since most fruits and vegetables cannot be cut in-store, this process eliminates a hassle for retail stores and will help continue to incrementally grow retail sales.”
Organic quality has been great thus far this year, Veillon said, and as Pure Flavor expands its product line and increases its family of growers, volumes will be up over last year.
“Consumers are looking for more variety in the organic vegetables they buy than ever before,” said Tiffany Sabelli, Pure Flavor’s director of sales. “Organic shoppers are no longer satisfied with the basics or staple items. Instead, they’re seeking out convenient snacking veggies like Organic Aurora Bites Mini Sweet Peppers, Organic Mini Cucumbers, or specialty cooking ingredients like our new Organic Luna Sweets Cocktail Tomatoes and Organic Roma Tomatoes.”
One-third of Gen Z shoppers want their produce department to carry more organic and greenhouse grown produce, according to FMI. And as more consumers become educated on the environmental benefits of sustainable greenhouse growing, Pure Flavor expects demand to continue to surge, Veillon said.
New options for home chefs
Last fall, Pure Flavor expanded its organic program by adding two new exciting products: Organic Roma Tomatoes and Organic Luna Sweets Cocktail Tomatoes. These two products are a great addition to any retailer’s offering, Sabelli said, because consumers continue to cook at home more often but are often challenged to find organic ingredients to use in their recipes.
Veillon said Pure Flavor gets its message about organic across through multiple digital channels with targeted ads and organic content that’s meant to forge an emotional connection.
In addition to developing its own recipes internally, for instance, Pure Flavor partners with content creators across North America to show consumers all the ways organic produce can be enjoyed, from Organic Bruschetta Burgers to Greek-Style Panzanella Salad.
“In our 2020 #LoveforFresh campaign, we surveyed more than 13,000 people across North America to understand what influenced their purchasing decisions, how often were they eating fresh fruits and vegetables and much more,” Veillon said. “For those asked about their organic shopping habits, 79% of people said a wider selection of organic options is extremely important or very important to them.”
According to FMI, one third of shoppers expect to purchase more organic produce in 2022 than they did this year, so Pure Flavor is are expecting to see an increase in the variety of Organic vegetables on grocery store shelves, Veillon said.
Pure Flavor’s full lineup of organic produce available year-round in 2022 includes tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, beefsteak and heirloom tomatoes, Juno Bites Red Grape Tomatoes, Sangria Medley Tomatoes, Roma Tomatoes, Organic Luna Sweets Cocktail Tomatoes, Peppers and Sweet Bell Peppers, Red, Yellow and Orange Aurora Bites Mini Sweet Peppers and Cucumbers, Long English Cucumbers and Mini Cucumbers.
Generally, production costs for conventionally grown items have increased while costs for organics have not done so at the same rate, Quon said. For Oppy, a key reason for that is increased reliance on in-house production instead of outside suppliers. For instance, Oppy’s OriginO production cultivates its own proprietary blend soils that are made on-site, as opposed to sourcing fertilizer from an outside source.