Organic food sales are setting records as more mainstream Americans fill their shopping carts with everything from eggs to gummy fruit snacks.
Having shed their hippy-dippy image, organic foods are among the faster-growing categories in supermarkets even though they add to food bills and studies vary when it comes to perceived health benefits.
Organic food producers, which now includes giants like General Mills, are capturing more consumers like business coach Patty Lennon of Brookfield, Conn.
“It’s produced in a healthier way, without pesticides, without any bad things that contaminate the growth of the food and the growth of my kids,” said the 45-year-old mother of two. “It’s peace of mind…As my kids grow up, I want to know I’ve done everything I could to put the right things in their bodies.”
Sure, organic costs more. Lennon estimates the $450 she spends on groceries weekly would drop to $275 or $300, if she bought the usual non-organic products.“I have the luxury of being able to afford it,” she said..
There are million of other shoppers like her.
Sales of organic food hit a record $43 billion last year, up 8.4 percent from the previous year, according to the Organic Trade Association, based in Washington, D.C.. Compare that to the 0.6 percent growth rate in the overall food category. But they still have a long way to go: Overall, organic food now represents 5.3 percent of total retail food sales in the U.S.
Interest in organic products is booming not only due to a more conscientious consumer, but also thanks to rising incomes in a booming economy and improved farming practices that make organic yields more robust. The demand for organic extends from supermarket aisles to the multitude of farmers markets that have sprung up around the country.
The rising importance was underscored by Amazon’s offer to buy Whole Foods Market, the upscale grocery chain known for its organics foods selection, for $13.7 billion.
“There’s an increasing awareness of organic products,” said Rupesh Parikh, Oppenheimer & Co.’s senior analyst for food, grocery and consumer products, who predicts continued double-digit annual growth. “Consumers are really looking more into what they’re eating.“
The most popular organic items are fruits and vegetables, which account for close to 40 percent of all organic food sales, the Organic Trade Association found. Organic produce sales grew at more than twice the rate of total fruit and vegetable sales. Almost 15 percent of veggies and fruit consumed in the U.S. is now organic.
With consumers’ desire for more nutritious, less chemically-laden food comes a willingness to pay more. Some 44 percent of shoppers would pay an additional 20 percent or more for organic fresh vegetables and 37 percent are willing to hand over that much more cash for organic poultry, found a study by the Hartman Group, a food and beverage research firm in Bellevue, Wash.
No wonder large food companies are diversifying their portfolios to include organic products.