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OTA projecting greater fruit and vegetable increase in 2011

by Christina DiMartino | January 20, 2011
Organic sales showed stronger growth in 2010 than in 2009, despite the continued poor economy, according to Barbara Haumann, senior writer and editor for the Organic Trade Association in Greenfield, MA.

"A 7 percent growth rate was projected for 2010, but we witnessed an 8 percent growth rate," she said. "This was inspiring because organics grew by only 5.1 percent in 1999. We have projected a 7 percent growth rate again for 2011, but we feel we could actually hit 10 percent by the end of the year. We're very optimistic for the future."

Fresh fruits and vegetables continue to be the driver in organics. The category is where the majority of consumers make their first organic purchases.

Ms. Haumann explained that the OTA tracks fruits and vegetables as a total category, which includes canned and frozen product. But when that figure is broken down, it is clear that fresh produce is where the greatest demand continues.

"In 2009, for example, the overall fruits and vegetables category grew by 11.4 percent. It was other categories that drove the overall organics category down to 5.1 percent. However, when broken down further, fresh fruits and vegetables grew at 12.1 percent. This is a clear indication that fresh produce continues to drive the overall category," she said.

The annual Organic Industry Survey is conducted from January through March each year, and results are released in late April. Although the OTA is excited about the growth figures on fresh produce for 2010, only the survey results can confirm exactly how well fresh produce performed.

"There are so many great venues for fresh organic fruits and vegetables today," said Ms. Haumann. For example, the President's Cancer Panel -- among other groups -- has issued recommendations for people to choose fresh foods that are produced without chemicals. News like this has a major impact on consumers, and we are hopeful that this type of information continues to be announced."

In 2010, the OTA's annual conference and expo, All Things Organic, was purchased by New Hope Natural Media, and the event was combined with the Natural Products Expo, which it also owns. The event was held in Boston Oct. 14-16, causing a conflict with the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Orlando, FL, Oct. 15-18.

"This did cause some problems for fruit and vegetable companies," said Ms. Haumann. "The issue was taken into consideration, and in 2011, the show will be held on Sept. 21-24, which will put some distance between the two trade events. It will be held in Baltimore this year. The layout of the show worked out well, however. Exhibiting companies had their choice of being in the organics section or in the natural products section. But it is all one big floor, so it was easy for people to maneuver."

Organic agriculture and products made great strides in recent times. In 2009- 10, Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture doubled the budget and staff of the National Organic Program, and it became an independent program within USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. With growing attention for including organic across all agencies within the USDA, the organic sector saw gains in conservation programs and data collection.

"Opening an office in Washington, DC, in January 2010 enabled the OTA to ramp up its presence and activities in the nation's capital by hiring a legislative and advocacy manager," said Ms. Haumann. "In April, OTA held its most successful Policy Conference and Hill Visit Days ever, offering organic constituents a focused look at current policymaking, the latest news from the administration, a chance to celebrate the many organic milestones of 2010 and face-to-face meetings with members of Congress and their staffs. The OTA is now finalizing plans for its 2011 Policy Conference and Hill Visit Days, scheduled for April 6 and 7."