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Organic produce grew strong, even in a challenging economy

All signs point to increased organic sales in the United States and Canada in 2012, according to the Organic Trade Association, headquartered in Brattleboro, VT.

Barbara Haumann, senior writer and editor for the OTA, told The Produce News that the organization’s annual survey, which is done early each year to collect data from the previous year, is not compiled and ready for release until March or April.

“Even though we don’t have the data yet, we do know that organic fruit and vegetable sales grew by 11.7 Chilis24Organic chili peppers. (Photo courtesy of the Organic Trade Association)percent in 2011,” said Ms. Haumann. “And sales are projected to grow by 11 percent for 2012. Of course, we cannot confirm that until the actual data is compiled.”

Despite that, Ms. Haumann said that there is no reason to believe that sales did not grow incrementally in 2012. Fruit and vegetable sales lead the overall organic category, but that includes fresh, frozen and processed products.

“There continues to be very healthy growth in this category,” said Ms. Haumann. “That nearly 12 percent added 1.2 billion in sales of fresh produce alone, possibly even more if we knew the breakdown of fresh versus frozen and prepared.”

Scott Mabs, director of marketing for Homegrown Organic Farms in Porterville, CA, said that organic sales have felt very stable, even during the worst of the economic crisis.

“We are encouraged by the growth we continue to experience,” he said. “I see the supply side affecting the category more than anything else. If there is not a large increase in supply, prices won’t change much. And supply and demand has remained pretty much the same in recent years. But if all of a sudden a few guys suddenly plant 1,000 acres, things can change rather quickly.”

He added that it is definitely not a completely elastic market where you can keep adding to it as much as you want. Prices are more related to supply and demand than to anything else.

“The incremental growth in the supply base is keeping the market steady at this point,” Mr. Mabs added.

Mayra Velazquez de Leon, who, with her husband, Manuel, owns and operates Organics Unlimited, headquartered in San Diego, said that the uptick in the economy and the ever-increasing interest in organics for health and environmental reasons has combined to result in a steady increase in sales of the company’s organic bananas.

“We continue to expand our production capabilities because there continues to be a growing demand for our organic bananas,” she noted. “In the past year we have increased the acreage of production in Mexico to fill the demand for our bananas.

“We will continue to supply our customers on the West Coast, but are also looking at expanding distribution to the [Midwest] and East Coast of the U.S., which will mean even more production increases at the current growth rate in the demand for organic bananas.”