COVID-19 Spurs Even Greater Interest in Organics
According to an online flash poll of 3,188 “likely organic” shoppers conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in late April and early May, more than 90% of respondents said that organic products are more important than ever to them as they shop during a pandemic.
Additionally, the association has found that many solid-growth organic categories have seen demand skyrocketing amid the public health crisis. For instance, organic produce sales, after surging by more than 50% in the early days of kitchen stocking, were up more than 20% in the spring of 2020. Other categories undergoing softer growth, like organic milk and organic eggs, have experienced big boosts in demand, while packaged and frozen organic foods enjoyed double-digit growth as consumers increased at-home meal preparation.
Meanwhile, according to OTA’s 2020 Organic Industry Survey of nearly 200 companies, which was fielded largely before pandemic shelter-at-home recommendations were instituted, the U.S. organic sector had a banner year in 2019, with organic sales in the food and nonfood markets totaling a record $55.1 billion, up 5% from the previous year.
Organic food sales were $50.1 billion, up 4.6%, while organic nonfood sales came to a little more than $5 billion, up 9.2%. OTA noted that both sectors easily surpassed the general-market growth rate of around 2% for total food sales and of 3% for total nonfood sales.
“Our 2020 survey looks at organic sales in 2019, before the coronavirus outbreak, and it shows that consumers were increasingly seeking out the organic label to feed their families the healthiest food possible. The pandemic has only increased our desire for clean, healthy food,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of Washington, D.C.-based OTA. “Our normal lives have been brought to a screeching halt by the coronavirus. The commitment to the organic label has always resided at the intersection of health and safety, and we expect that commitment to strengthen as we all get through these unsettled times.”
In the early stages of the pandemic, OTA joined forces with Mercaris Data Service and the Category Partners strategic insights company to assemble the latest insights and outlooks for the organic sector.
With the U.S. economy battered by the pandemic, there are a few ways that could play out for organic products: Because people are price sensitive, there may be a slowdown in organic sales growth, or because people are increasingly concerned about their health and seeking cleaner items, they may be willing to invest in premium products.
As a result of these factors, all of the staple categories, including dairy and eggs; breads, pastas, rice and grains; and baking supplies like flour and baking yeast, are expected to see increased growth in 2020, provided supply can meet demand. In the nonfood organic sector, organic vitamins and immunity-related products are expected to see strong growth, along with organic supplements and household products.
“It’s hard to know what’s ahead of us, but consumers will continue to trust in and depend on the organic label,” added Batcha. “Organic producers and processors – indeed, the entire organic supply chain – have been working around the clock through this difficult time to keep our stores filled with healthy, toxic-free and sustainably produced organic food and products. Organic is going to be there for the consumer.”