Though the recession has affected sales of organic produce in Quebec, large local growers continue to increase organic acreage to meet the demand.
âOrganic companies are thriving,â said Anthony Fantin, vice president of Veg Pro International, Sherrington, Quebec, which is working toward growing organically. âBut from visiting stores and talking to produce managers, it looks like demand is only great in areas that havenât been hard hit by the economy.â
Robert Beauregard, director of negotiations for Montreal-based Metro supermarkets, said heâs seeing a definite slowdown in organic sales in Quebec after several years of growth.
âThe hard-core organic customer isnât a problem,â he said, âitâs the soft customer who wants to eat healthier and try organics but finds the cost prohibitive in this economy.â
Christian Chouinard, head of product development for Loblaws and chairman of the Quebec Produce Marketing Association, said the growth of organics has been incredible and will increase in the future, but it remains a small part of the chainâs business.
Chouinard said the company is expanding its local organic offerings this summer with cauliflower from grower Maraichers Bec Sucre in St. Isidore, Quebec, and it has a strong relationship with the Symbiosis brand, which represents seven major Quebec organic growers.
Pat Calabretta, senior director of merchandising and purchasing for Sobeyâs Quebec, said he is 100% committed to local producers.
âWhen thereâs local we buy it,â he said, âwhether itâs conventional or organic.â
On the producerâs side, the key to success is to offer a full line of organic produce, said Martin Cousineau, sales director of Les Jardins Paul Cousineau & Fils Inc., St. Constant, Quebec.
âEverybody wants organics,â said Cousineau, Canadaâs largest broccoli producer, âbut if a customer is looking for a variety of organics itâs difficult to sell them two skids of broccoli.â
To supplement his line, Cousineau is doubling organic broccoli production this year to 150 acres and is adding green and red leaf lettuce, iceberg, cauliflower and celery.
âEighty acres is a trial for us,â he said. âIf it goes well, weâll expand and add a few new organic vegetables every year.â
The time involved to grow organic, however, remains prohibitive.
âIt costs a lot of money and it takes five years to convert fields,â said Cousineau, âbut we hope to have 300 more acres next year ready for organic if the customer wants it.â
Another challenge has been to maintain a consistent supply of product.
âSometimes we have a lot and some weeks we donât have any,â he said. âBut weâve learned fast and weâve improved 300% in the past three years. Our supplies were pretty consistent last year, but we need to improve more.â
Finding organic products to keep bugs and disease at bay is another barrier for growers dealing with Quebecâs damp climate, Fantin said.
âA lot of products used in the U.S. are not available in Canada and we donât have anything to use in our rich organic muck soil,â he said.
Though Ottawa has put some products on the fast track for approval, he said those that havenât been used in Quebec before are extremely expensive and may require five to seven years of government testing.