If you're a consumer looking to buy organic fruits or vegetables, Los Angeles is the place to go, said Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing for Bridgeport, N.J.-based Albert's Organics, which has a branch in Vernon, Calif., just outside of Los Angeles.

In fact, he calls Los Angeles "one of the premier places for getting organics."

Because of that strong demand, however, if you're a grower, retailer or wholesaler, you'll find more competition in Southern California than just about anywhere else.

That competition has gotten even stronger with the economic downturn.

Retailers who rarely played up their organic offerings in the past let alone mark them down, are featuring organics on ad every week and implementing the same merchandising techniques to move the product as they use to promote conventional produce, he said.

To be sure, organics aren't in danger of fading away.

The category may not have grown at the 20% rate last year that the industry is accustomed to, "but the numbers are stable," said Nikki Nagel, sales manager for Better Life Produce Inc., Los Angeles. "It's not going backwards at all. It's growing."

Nagel, who calls herself "a pioneer of the organic industry," has been living an organic lifestyle for nearly 30 years, and she has no intention of letting tough economic times interfere with that.

People who are committed to organics will skip a movie or other luxury before they forego their healthful lifestyles, she said.

Organic business also seems to be doing well at Heath & Lejeune Inc., Los Angeles, where the volume and quality of the company's organic products continue to improve as the line matures, said Rick Lejeune, chief executive officer.

"We're reaching more people with more items than we ever have," he said.

Like Nagel, he said consumers who are committed to organics generally remain committed, even when the economy weakens.

However, he added, "Some of the newer buyers may not be deeply entrenched, and some lower-income buyers may be forced into making a decision they don't like to make."

At Bandwagon Brokerage, Los Angeles, president Dennis Berman said he is not overly concerned about the cost of the organic produce he sells because his customers care more about quality than cost.

"We're more concerned with arrivals," he said.

Organics is not a large part of the company's business, but it is a growing part.

"We seem to be selling more of it than we ever have," Berman said.

Better Life Produce sells a couple of hundred organic items but sees some of the strongest demand for fruits or vegetables like strawberries, grapes and peppers that are subjected to large amounts of sprays, Nagel said.

Business is doing well at natural food stores and restaurants that serve natural food, she added.

Organic suppliers don't take kindly to the latest catch phrase - "local is the new organic."

"A lot of locally grown product is grown using techniques and materials that are antithetical to organic production," Lejeune said. "We in the organic world would not want to promote the idea that because it's local, it has some qualities other than being local."

Consumers should consider a product's carbon footprint, but if they're buying from a local, conventional grower who uses fossil fuels and chemical pesticides, he said, "we feel that has more negatives than pluses."

Weinstein doesn't like to see local pitted against organic.

"They both fall under the heading of sustainability," he said, and they both are working toward the same goal.

Albert's Organics works with local and organic growers, he said.