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OTA: Latest organic trends show produce still leads category

by Christina DiMartino | September 19, 2010
Produce continues to lead in organic sales according to the Organic Trade Association's 2010 Organic Industry Survey on organic trends. The report included final organic sales figures for 2009.

"The survey was conducted from January 21 through March 3, 2010, and results released in late April," said Barbara Haumann, senior writer and editor for the OTA, headquartered in Greenfield, MA,. “U.S. sales of organic products continue to grow despite the distressed state of the economy. Particularly popular with consumers are organic fruits and vegetables.”

Although it is too early to predict final sales growth in 2010, the survey showed organic product sales in 2009 grew by 5.3 percent overall, to reach $26.6 billion. Ms. Haumann quoted from the report, “Of that figure, $24.8 billion represented organic food sales. The remaining $1.8 billion were sales of organic non-foods.”

Experiencing the most growth in the food category, organic fruits and vegetables, which represent 38 percent of total organic food sales, reached nearly $9.5 billion in sales in 2009, up 11.4 percent from 2008 sales. Most notably, organic fruits and vegetables now represent about 11 percent of all U.S. fruit and vegetable sales. This category is expected to continue to be robust, with average annual growth for the years 2010 through 2012 forecast at 13 percent.

The mass-market channel had the lion’s share of organic food sales in 2009, with 54 percent of organics sold through mainstream grocers, club stores and retailers. Natural retailers were next, with 38 percent of total organic food sales.

“Although they still represent a small percentage of sales, farmers markets, co-ops and community-supported agriculture operations gained a lot of interest as consumers increasingly look for locally and regionally produced organic foods,” Ms. Haumann added.

The OTA’s 2009 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study, conducted in April 2009, and issued in June 2009, revealed that consumers see choosing organics as a way to support their health and the health of their children.

The report stated that the younger generation of organic consumers is very interested in the implications of their food choices. This is due in part to the growth of school gardens, which have given children from across social, political, economic and racial lines first-hand exposure to organic foods and agricultural practices. These consumers have both an understanding of and appreciation for where their food comes from. As a result, they will see organic not as a niche market to which few people have access, but instead as a way of life for anyone who chooses it.

The OTA also reported that there is mounting evidence showing the many benefits for consuming organic foods. Studies linking non-organic practices to increased health risks are beginning to prove more conclusively the many benefits that organic agriculture has to offer farmers, the land, water supplies, air and the health of the planet. With mainstream media publicizing these findings, consumers are beginning to seek more organic products where they shop.

“The report references the 2008-2009 Annual Report, President’s Cancer Panel, titled Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, which was released in April 2010,” said Ms. Haumann. “It states that exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and washing conventionally grown produce to remove residues.”

The panel of people conducting the study and compiling the report wrote in a letter to President Obama, “The American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures. The panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity and devastate American lives.”

Ms. Haumann added that the 2010 study is underway. She further noted that a study published May 17 in Pediatrics concluded that exposure to organophosphate pesticides — prohibited in organic production — at levels common among U.S. children may contribute to the prevalence of attention- deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

“The article reported findings from a study examining the association between urinary concentrations of metabolites of organophosphates and ADHD in children ages 8 to 15,” said Ms. Haumann. “Researchers analyzed the levels of pesticide metabolites in the urine of 1,139 children and found children with above-average levels had roughly twice the odds of being diagnosed with ADHD.

“As has been proven over the years and reinforced by consumer purchases even in recent tough economic times, organic is not a fad”, Ms. Haumann concluded. “It has become a part of everyday life for many consumers.”

(For more on organic produce, see the Sept. 20, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)