Organic produce saw stronger sales and volume growth than conventional produce did in 2020, according to a new report from the Organic Produce Network (OPN).
The Monterey, Calif.-based network, founded in 2017, reported that organic produce sales in the U.S. climbed 14.2% year over year to more than $8.54 billion in 2020, vs. sales growth of 10.7% for conventional produce. Organic produce accounted for 12% of the overall produce market in terms of dollar sales in 2020.
The gap between organic and conventional produce was larger in terms of volume growth for the year: Organic produce volume expanded 16%, and conventional produce volume grew 9%, according to the OPN's State of Organic Produce 2020 report. By volume, organic produce accounted for only 6.6% of the total produce market.
Packaged salads racked up the highest dollar sales within the organic produce category, totaling more than $1.4 billion in U.S. sales for the year. Berries followed at $1.3 billion; apples came in third at $620 million.
While organic produce's top 10 sellers all saw sales growth in double-digit percentages for the year, there were a few standout performers: Herbs and spices, potatoes and mushrooms recorded growth exceeding 20% as consumers hunkered down at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and many began preparing more meals at home more often.
In terms of volume, organic bananas led the category, posting 16% year-over-year growth. Apples, carrots, berries and packaged salads rounded out organic produce's top five by volume. OPN noted that bagged apples, in particular, had a strong showing in 2020, with consumers looking to stock up on fresh and hardier choices as they made fewer trips to the grocery store. Berries, lettuce and onions all saw volume growth higher than 20%.
OPN included in its report comments on the category shared by retailers and growers in its YouTube event series. "Everything from packaged herbs, packaged salads, the new pouch bag of organic apples, and some of the different packaged organic items really resonated well with this new [COVID-era] customer," Fresh Thyme Market VP of Produce and Floral Scott Schuette told OPN in November. He added that retailer's mantra for the year would be, "We win 2021 with winning organic."
A major challenge to the organic produce industry in 2021 and in the years ahead will come from indoor growers, Earthbound Farm and Taylor Farms Chairman and CEO Bruce Taylor said in December. Indoor greenhouses and vertical farms are receiving an influx of capital from investors across the country and are able to position their products as local, which carries more weight with consumers than the organic designation does, he said.
By region in 2020, the U.S. West and South accounted for organic produce's biggest gains in sales and volume. Sales of organic produce in Western states grew 16.8% year over year to more than $2.6 billion. By contrast, organic produce sales in the Midwest in 2020 were about half that, at $1.32 billion. The Midwest saw the lowest levels of organic produce sales and volume growth in 2020, although these were still a respectable 10.7% and 11.9%.