The U.S. organic market in 2018 broke through the $50 billion mark for the first time, with sales hitting a record $52.5 billion, up 6.3 percent from the previous year, according to the 2019 Organic Industry Survey released by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).
Sales of organic fruits and vegetables improved 5.6 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, to $17.4 billion. By comparison, the overall fruits and vegetables category, including both organic and conventional products, grew by just 1.7 percent in 2018.
OTA said new records were made in both the organic food market and the organic non-food market. Overall organic food sales reached $47.9 billion, for an increase of 5.9 percent. Sales of organic non-food products jumped by 10.6 percent to $4.6 billion. The growth rate for organic continued to easily outpace the general market: In 2018, total food sales in the U.S. edged up just 2.3 percent while total non-food sales rose 3.7 percent, OTA said.
Fruits and vegetables are the “stalwart” of the organic industry, OTA said.
Fruits and vegetables now account for 36.3 percent of all organic food sales. Organic fruits and vegetable make up close to 15 percent (14.6 percent) of all the produce sold in the U.S., and have nearly doubled their market share in the last ten years.
Produce, OTA said, is a gateway to organic for consumers, especially millennials and those with young families. Industry experts note that the more people learn about health and wellness, the more people buy fresh produce.
Popular in the organic produce aisles: the classics like carrots, greens, apples, bananas. Also hitting stride are organic berries, avocados, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and tropical fruits like mangoes and papayas. And outside the fresh produce section, the frozen, canned and dried vegetable and fruit sections also made gains.
OTA said millennials are pushing for transparency and integrity in the food supply chain, and they are savvy to misleading marketing.
“The USDA Organic Seal is gaining new appeal as consumers realize that organic is a certification that is not only monitored and supported by official standards, but is the only seal that encompasses the spectrum of non-GMO, no toxic pesticides or chemicals, dyes or preservatives,” OTA said.
Organic is no longer a niche market, OTA said.
Almost 6 percent (5.7 percent) of the food sold in the U.S. is now organic, the association said. Today’s consumers can find organic products – food and non-food items — in every aisle of their grocery stores. They can choose organic in their favorite big box store, their club warehouse store, even in their neighborhood convenience store and increasingly on the internet.
“Organic is now considered mainstream,” said Laura Batcha, OTA’s CEO and executive director. “But the attitudes surrounding organic are anything but status quo. In 2018, there was a notable shift in the mindset of those working in organic toward collaboration and activism to move the needle on the role organic can play in sustainability and tackling environmental initiatives. Activism is a natural reaction from an industry that is really close to the consumer. When we are in an environment where government is not moving fast enough, the industry is choosing to move to meet the consumer rather than get stalled.”
OTA said shoppers, especially young families, are increasingly seeking out products made from high-quality simple ingredients from brands committed to sustainable agriculture and its environmental benefits. Those shoppers turn to organic dairy as a trusted clean product free of antibiotics, synthetic hormones and chemicals. But growth in the U.S. dairy sector slowed for the second straight year due largely to shifting diet trends. Still the second-largest organic category, dairy and egg sales were $6.5 billion in 2018, up 0.8 percent from 2017.
Many millennials also have moved away from livestock-based products toward plant-based foods and beverages. Experts said that to satisfy today’s consumer, the importance of innovation in the organic dairy sector has never been greater. In 2018, the industry responded with milk beverages with increased protein, more full-fat dairy products, new flavors and grass-fed products.
Consumers are making the connection that the same reasons they choose to eat organic food apply to the non-food products they use–whether napkins for their dinner table, food for their pets, lotions they put on their skin or the supplements they ingest. Consumers want clean labels and to reduce the chemical load on their bodies, OTA said. Millennials also have a higher awareness around supply chain transparency and sustainability. All of these factors bode well for the future of the organic non-food industry, OTA said.
The outlook for organic, OTA said, is not without its challenges, but all expectations are that innovation and activism by the organic industry will continue to build as the sector works to maintain the credibility of the Organic seal and the trust of consumers.
“Organic is in a unique and tough environment,” Batcha said. “The government is slowing the advancement of the organic standard, but the positive news is that industry is finding ways to innovate and get closer to the consumer without walking away from the organic program. The sector is innovating yet requiring that federal organic be in place. So, whether it’s grass-fed, regenerative or Global Organic Textile Standard certified, they all have to be organic. The industry is committed to standards and giving consumers what they want.”
This year’s survey was conducted from January through April 2019 and produced on behalf of OTA by Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ). More than 200 companies completed a significant portion of the in-depth survey.Follow us on social media: