Organic produce in the Twin Cities is a variable business segment, with some suppliers and retailers seeing continued growth, and some reporting a lull in the demand.
“Like most everywhere else in the country, our area certainly saw a declining economy, and retailers were working really hard to keep pace with the changing buying habits of customers,” said Simcha Weinstein, marketing director for Bridgeport, N.J.-based Albert’s Organics, which supplies the Twin Cities from its distribution facility in Mounds View, Minn.
In the organic segment, Weinstein said there was certainly some shifting toward less expensive conventional products with some consumers but now the company is noticing signs that organic product is coming back.
Business is good for The Wedge’s warehouse and distribution arm, Co-op Partners Warehouse, Minneapolis, an organic supplier, said Tom Rodmyre, warehouse manager.
This year, the company is increasing its sourcing from its own farm to 100%, while in past years it has taken only about 25% of the organic produce it grows and sold the remaining 75%.
The farm grows melons, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, corn and pepper, among other vegetables, Rodmyre said.
Part of the reason the company will be able to use more organic produce this year is that its territory has expanded to include co-ops in Chicago, Rodmyre said.
Rodmyre attributes what he calls strong growth in the organic sector to consumers’ increasing interest in their own health, as well as better quality and variety of organic produce as the sector continues to mature.
“One of the benefits of being in the organic foods industry is that consumers of organic food are committed to a lifestyle choice,” Weinstein said. “Even when the economy becomes unstable, they don’t automatically abandon their lifestyle choice.”
Growth in both the organic sector and in fresh-cut business has slowed for Inver Grove Heights, Minn.-based Russ Davis Wholesale and its subsidiary North Country Produce, said Adam Gamble, general manager.
“We’re still seeing growth, just not as much as a few years ago,” Gamble said. “Organic growth will be coming back in the next year or two. People’s disposable income might come back in the next couple years.”
Talk of a recovery this year is really limited to Wall Street and the investment community, and hasn’t trickled down to the general marketplace yet, Gamble said.
Although jobs are scarce and people are cutting back, Kevin Hannigan, vice president of J&J Distributing Inc., said organic sales for the St. Paul, Minn.-based company are as strong as they’ve ever been. The company has also expanded its fresh-cut organic product line.
J&J Distributing brought the pack size down for its fresh-cut organic fruit to four 12-ounce containers per pack.
The processor and distributor is offering fresh-cut mango, watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew this summer.
“We usually just do a fruit medley and cored pineapple, but we’ve expanding,” Hannigan said.
The company has been trying a lot of new things with Kowalski’s Markets, including peeled blood oranges, cara cara oranges and navel oranges, as well as a mix with grapes, pineapple and oranges that has been a huge hit, Hannigan said.
Phillip Brooks, chief executive officer of H. Brooks & Co., New Brighton, Minn., said organic growth varies across customers.
“Some are growing and really trying to differentiate using organic and sustainable product,” Brooks said.
H. Brooks is certified by Midwest Food Alliance for sustainable practices, and Brooks said demand is growing every year for certified sustainable produce.
For Minneapolis-based Minnesota Produce Inc., the primary organic business is in transportation, rather than selling the product.
“Our particular customer base seems to be lodged in the conventional world,” said Paul Piazza Sr., president.
Organic wholesalers prefer to buy directly from growers to avoid diluting organic certifications with multiple links in the supply chain, Piazza said.