WASHINGTON — The organic industry showed signs of breaking free from the effects of the recession in 2011. U.S. organic food sales of $29.2 billion in 2011 marked an increase of more than 9% from $26.7 billion in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2012 Organic Industry Survey released April 23. Organic food share grew to 4.2% of total food sales in 2011, which was up from 4% in 2010 and compared with 1.4% in 2001.
U.S. organic food sales had annual double-digit sales growth from the years 2002 to 2008 before slipping to 5% in 2009 and nearly 8% in 2010.
“Consumers are increasingly engaged and discerning when they shop, making decisions based on their values and awareness about health and environmental concerns,” said Christine Bushway, executive director and chief executive officer of the O.T.A. “For them, it matters whether foods are genetically engineered or produced using practices that are good for their families.
“Price is still an issue, but with the wide availability of private label products and many venues for organic products, they have many choices for where to shop and a variety of products from which to choose.”
The survey was researched and produced for the O.T.A. under contract by Nutrition Business Journal. It found consumers are confused about the benefits of organic product when compared to products that are promoted as natural, non-bioengineered or local and the confusion has worked against the organic industry.
“Manufacturers that can give consumers a combination of these attributes without a price premium can hit a sweet spot, but when purchasers with limited budget make buying decisions, a cheaper local product often wins over a pricier imported organic option,” the survey said.
Fruits and vegetables accounted for 40.5% of all U.S. organic food sales in 2011. Other categories included dairy (14.6% of U.S. organic food sales), packaged/prepared foods (13.6%), beverages (12.1%), bread and grains (10.7%), snack foods (4.5%), condiments (2.1%), and meat, poultry and fish (1.8%).
Although it was the smallest category, meat, fish and poultry organic sales grew 13% when compared to 2010.
U.S. consumer sales of organic products overall, which includes food and non-food products, accounted for $31.4 billion in sales in 2011, which was an increase of 9.5% from $28.7 billion in 2010. U.S. sales of comparable conventional food and non-food items grew 4.7% in 2011. Sales of organic products overall had annual double-digit growth rates from the years 2003 to 2008 before dropping to 5.3% in 2009 and 7.8% in 2010.
Organic food and non-food sales in 2012 and 2013 will continue to sustain growth levels of 9% or higher, according to the survey.
“With 94% of organic operations nationwide planning to maintain or increase employment in 2012, the organic sector will continue to fuel jobs, rural economies and consumer choice,” Ms. Bushway said.