TORONTO — The weak economy has taken some excitement away from organics in the Toronto market, but foodservice sales continue to grow and the organic consumer remains committed.
“The organic consumer sees it as a lifestyle choice,” said Anthony Pitoscia, vice president of Fresh Advancements Inc., which now has its own 100% organic stall in the Ontario Food Terminal, leaving a second stall for conventional produce.
“Once you’ve made that choice, bananas at 99 cents versus 69 cents a pound doesn’t really matter,” Pitoscia said. “If your grocery bill is $200 a week, you might avoid something else rather than buying cheaper product or less of it.”
Mike Fronte, co-owner of Mike & Mike’s, an organic importer, packer and distributor off the market, said he’s watched Toronto’s organic market evolve during his 13 years in the business.
“We’re nowhere close to what the west coast is doing,” Fronte, said, “but we’re getting there. Toronto is a world-class city, and customers demand the best and care about what they’re eating.”
Pitoscia said global growth in the organic industry has made it easier to close production gaps.
“Instead of just having organic navel oranges for the California period, we’re starting to find offshore product from Egypt and South Africa,” he said. “It keeps the product going on the shelf year-round. It’s still not simple, but it’s getting easier globally.”
When he went to Fruit Logistica in Berlin four years ago, 70 companies showed organic products, he said. This year, there were 375 companies showing organics.
One commodity that remains difficult to import is offshore lemons, which don’t travel well without a fungicide put on them, he said.
Today’s organic bright lights are organic Chilean cherries and blueberries, which he said have come a long way in the last few years.
“They’re high-volume, high-dollar items and they’re driving a lot of sales.”
While there are still gaps, for the most part organic pricing is getting closer to conventional pricing, he said.
During the local season, Pitoscia works with a network of Ontario organic growers such as Norfolk Organics and Zephyr Organics.
“We could always use more,” he said. “Conventional growers are in the local deal for such a short time they’re not willing to cross over, and the organic people who are doing it are maxed out.”