More than 11% of all fresh fruit and vegetable sales in 2009 were organic, illustrating the segment’s explosive growth, almost quadrupling in less than 10 years as major retailers expanded beyond conventionally grown produce.

Organics made up 11% of all fresh produce sales in 2009

Organic fresh produce sales totaled almost $9.5 billion last year, 11% more than in 2008, according to the 2010 Organic Industry Survey, released April 22 by Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association.

Organics’ 11.4% fresh produce market share in 2009 was up from 9.8% in 2008. The category’s share has grown steadily since 2000, the year the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the final rule on its National Organic Program. Organic fruit and vegetables accounted for just 3% of all fresh produce sales that year.

Organic produce accounted for about 38% of all organic food sales in 2009.

Despite the sluggish economy, consumers continue to buy more organic fruits and vegetables, said Barbara Haumann, a spokeswoman for the association.

“They see the value in buying organic,” she said. “People are very concerned about their health, particularly the health of their children, and there’s a broader concern about the health of the planet.”

Haumann said organic produce is not always more expensive than conventional.

Organics’ share of all food sales is considerably smaller, according to the report, with 3.7% of all U.S. food sales in 2009.

But organic food sales grew at a significantly higher rate than all U.S. food sales in 2009, up 5.1% over 2008. Sales in the food category as a whole rose just 1.6%.

More than half of all organic food sales — 54% — occurred in conventional grocery stores and club stores in 2009. Natural food retailers accounted for 38% of all organic food sales.