Has organic really gone mainstream?

The answer is more elusive than you might think.

organic produce

From Blount Fine Foods.

In November of 2014, RetailWire managing editor Tom Ryan posted a story that asked: “This time, are organics really going mainstream?”  His was a good question, but challenging one to answer. 

To answer it, you need a quantifiable definition of “mainstream,” which does not exist.  The numbers are interesting nonetheless.

Jumping the gun in 2006

In October of 2006, a CNN story declared that yes, organic food and green products had gone mainstream.  In supporting its argument, the article alluded to the shift in profile of the organic consumer from hippie, counterculture tree-huggers, concerned about the use of pesticides in the environment, to the upscale suburbanite concerned about rising obesity rates and mad-cow disease. 

And then the Great Recession of 2008 hit and all but wiped out the momentum in the organic food space for the next several years. Up until that point, according to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. organic sales had been growing consistently at about 20 percent per year annually since 1990.

Down, but not out

But things have been picking back up, and today, sales of organic foods in the United States are closing in on $50 billion a year and growing at approximately six times overall industry growth.  The success of organic foods is certainly obvious at retail, but the implications and opportunities are there across the foodservice spectrum as well.

But the market share of organic foods is still a rounding error compared to overall food sales, so it’s a little premature to declare organics’ arrival in the mainstream—at least from a numbers perspective.

What do the big guys think about organic?

If we cannot quantify the mainstreaming of organic, perhaps we can qualify it.

Over the last decade-plus, Whole Foods Markets has been the poster child for the potential of retail organic foods. Today, virtually every major retail grocer offers a meaningful selection of organic produce and packaged goods.  Are major grocery chains “mainstream”?  Check!

As we have seen in national news recently, organic ingredients in a restaurant kitchen require careful handling.  But satisfying diners has always required extra care back-of-house.  Today’s consumer is smarter than ever, knows what he or she wants, and expects to be able to get it.

Redefining the organic-food purchaser is the key

If organics are not in the mainstream, then are the “aging hippies and wealthy suburbanites” mentioned in the 2006 CNN story really carrying the industry? Would any chain undertake a major initiative to target a sliver of a market segment?  The answer to both is of course not.

No, organics are winning mindshare and purchase share among a wider market segment: the entire population of U.S. consumers.

The result of this mainstreaming will not only be price points that more diners can (and will) afford, but also economies of scale in farming, handling and production that will continue to dramatically broaden and advance the universe of organic food products available.

That, along with our ability to ensure high quality and delicious taste, is why we introduced Blount Organics to foodservice in 2014, and why we have continued to expand it.
 

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