(Aug. 26) In the past several years, the availability of organic fresh produce has increased and more people have been buying organics. In Fresh Trends 1996, 23% of consumers reported buying organic fresh produce in the six months before being surveyed. By 2000, that number was up to 32%, and the number increased to 34% in Fresh Trends 2002 survey. Fresh Trends research does not quantify the volume of organic purchases, only the incidence of purchase.

Younger consumers are more likely to drive this segment of the fresh produce industry. Of consumers 18 to 34 years old, 44% say they bought organic fresh produce in the six months before the survey. This purchasing behavior drops to 37% among those 35-44 and continues to drop within each age group. Only 26% of those age 65 years or older purchased organics in the six months before the survey.

The West is a key sector of the organic fresh produce market. Among consumers in Western states, 50% say they purchased one or more organic fresh produce items in the six months preceding the survey. Consumers in other regions are less likely to purchase organics. Thirty-two percent of consumers in the North Central region% say they purchased organic fresh produce in the six months preceding the survey. The Northeast and the South follow at 30% and 29%, respectively.

There is little difference in organic purchasing based on income. About one-third of those earning up to $74,999 annually report that they purchased organic fresh produce in the months before the survey. However, among those with incomes of $75,000 or more, purchase incidence rises to 41%.

While past research has shown consistency between men and women in their purchases of organic fresh produce, this year’s survey shows a higher incidence of organic purchases among men, at 39% compared to women at 33%.

While vegetables seem to have the lion’s share of purchase incidence, with 73% of organic buyers choosing fresh vegetables, the incidence of organic fresh fruit purchases is on the rise. In Fresh Trends 1996, 24% of organic purchasers bought one or more fresh fruits. Incidence peaked in Fresh Trends 2000 at 35%. In Fresh Trends 2000 the numbers remained at 34%.

Tomatoes lead as the organic item of choice. Thirty-seven% of those who purchased organic fresh produce bought tomatoes. Eighteen percent bought leafy vegetables, which consist of various lettuces, and 15% bought organic carrots.

For fruits, apples lead the list at 12%. After apples, no one fruit is mentioned by more than 5% of organic purchasers.