Sales of organic fruits and vegetables seem to be thriving in the Los Angeles market, despite the weak economy.


JBJ Distributing Inc., Fullerton, Calif., for example, increased acreage of organic items like green beans, zucchini, yellow squash and onions, said Jimmy Matiasevich, sales manager.


“Our business really has not gone down,” he said. “The economy has not hurt us at all.”


The firm’s organic customers are committed to the environment, he said, and don’t want produce coated with pesticides.


Consumer awareness about organics is rising, Matiasevich said, and he cited a report on Health.com indicating that children exposed to higher levels of a pesticide found in trace amounts on conventional fruits and vegetables are more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than children with less exposure.


He also attributed some of JBJ’s sales increases to its packaging — two-count packs of apples, zucchini and bell peppers that plainly identify the product as organic and ensure the correct ring at checkout.


“There can be a lot of missrings at the checkout counter when produce is not properly identified as organic,” he said.


Organic sales never have accounted for a major share of the business at Bandwagon Brokerage in Los Angeles, said president Dennis Berman. But sales of organic berries, greens and some vegetables continue to steadily inch upward, he said.


More chefs seem to be calling the brokerage for quotes these days than in the past, when business was almost exclusively retail.


To date, Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce Corp. has offered primarily organic potatoes, said Jack Gyben, vice president. The company is looking at new opportunities in other categories.


Progressive Produce is the exclusive national supplier of organic potatoes for a major retail grocery chain, Gyben said.


Habitually organic


Many shoppers are committed to an organic lifestyle and don’t abandon that lifestyle just because the economy is down, said Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing for Bridgeport, N.J.-based Albert’s Organics Inc., which has a branch in Vernon, Calif., near Los Angeles.


Consumers may make modifications, however, perhaps buying fewer raspberries and more organic broccoli, he said.


Industrywide, organic food sales rose nearly 20% annually from 2000 to 2008, Weinstein said. The growth was only 5% in 2009.


“That doesn’t mean fewer people are buying organic,” he said. “It just hasn’t been the best time getting that crossover shopper.”


Baby vegetables like those marketed by AMS Exotic LLC, Los Angeles, are hard to grow organically year-round, said Scott Lehman, director of sales and marketing.


The company has tested some products, like organic baby zucchini, in response to customer requests but has held off adding them to its product line.


“We don’t want to take a product to market until we can do it year-round,” Lehman said.


It may be 2011 or 2012 before the company offers organically grown baby vegetables, he said, but AMS might have some organic fresh-cut products available as early as the end of 2010.


World Variety Produce Inc. in Los Angeles offered one of the organic category’s first national brands — its Melissa’s label — said Robert Schueller, director of public relations.


During the summer, the company offers organic valencia oranges, limes, zucchini, yellow onions, grapefruit, kiwifruit, lemons, peaches, nectarines, plums and grapes and is one of the few sources of organic edamame, Schueller said.