The recession bit into organic greenhouse profits in 2009 and, though some growers reported flat demand, others said there is room for growth.
“Definitely pricing wasn’t as good as it was in 2008 because of what the economy was doing,” said Aaron Quon, greenhouse category director of the Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia. “There is still demand for it, but the price gap wasn’t as wide as it used to be.”
Quon said even though a wider price gap rings higher at the register, closer proximity with conventional prices encourages more conventional consumers to trade up to organic.
Origin Organic Farms, Delta, British Columbia, which provides greenhouse organics to Oppenheimer Group, started picking organic cucumbers in late February and is expecting to pick tomatoes on the vine by the end of April, according to Quon.
Chris Veillon, executive vice president of Mastronardi Produce Ltd., Kingsville, Ontario, said its Sunset brand, with specialty items like Splendido cherry tomatoes and mini cucumbers, is seeing strong demand.
“The organics are continuing to grow,” Veillon said. “We continue to be the largest organic grower in North America, and demand is strong.”
Veillon noted that despite higher prices, demand still exceeded production for the company.
“There are a core group of people that are avid organic users,” agreed Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Clear Choice Greenhouses LLC, Thonotosassa, Fla. “Not so much greenhouse. It’s more organic. It’s a mindset.”
Wishnatzki said there is still risk in growing greenhouse organics because of high input costs.
“It’s pretty clear that there is still opportunity for growth. The only caveat is that it’s hard to grow too aggressively because growing organics is pretty unpredictable,” Wishnatzki explained.
One element that is increasingly predictable is the popularity of “buy local,” which Wishnatzki said Clear Choice has highlighted Fresh from Florida on its packaging since the beginning.
“We’re shipping mostly in the Southeast. A lot stays in Florida. The whole organic mindset is to buy close to home. Staying with that makes sense.”