Organic Trade Association unveils promising stats on industry growth

By Whitney Forman-Cook

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015 - The head of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) told a sold-out conference Wednesday morning that the results of a recent annual survey show “organic has turned a corner.”

The survey found sales of organic products increased by 11.3 percent in 2014, marking yet another year among decades that have yielded double-digit sales growth. Of the $39 billion in sales last year, $35.9 billion went toward the purchase of food products and over $1 billion bought organic fibers - a record high for the organic cotton and wool industries.

“Organic hasn't been a niche for some time, and today it is the face of America,” Laura Batcha, executive director and CEO of OTA said in a release. “The demographics of the organic customer are not any different than the demographics of America.”

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The OTA report found the ethnic backgrounds of organic consumers are closely aligned with U.S. population distributions. For instance, white consumers bought nearly three quarters (73 percent) of organic products purchased in 2014 when according to the 2010 Census, whites constituted 72.4 percent of the U.S. population. Hispanic consumers - 16.4 percent of the total population - made up 16 percent of total organic purchases, while African Americans, 12.6 percent of Americans, purchased 14 percent of organic products sold.

The majority of households in every region of the United States make organic supermarket or retail purchases too, according to the survey. The high water mark in household penetration was up to 87 percent in the Northeast, Batcha told reporters this morning, while the country's low water mark was 68 percent in OTA's designated “East South Central” region: Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama.

As in previous years, Batcha said, the growth in demand for organic goods still outpaces nominal increases in organically farmed acreage. “We are very close to the milestone of 5 percent of all food purchases in the United States,” but that market share could be higher without “increasing and dramatic supply shortages” linked to low organic acreage, she added. “If we want to change the agricultural landscape we need to get past 1 percent of acres (farmed).”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told attendees that his agency was working hard to bolster organic supply by educating USDA employees about the industry's needs. To date, the USDA has trained 30,000 staff members in organic literacy and will offer educational pilot programs to Farm Service Agency staff so they may facilitate growth in the organics industry.

“It is important for people to understand that at USDA… we see organic as an integral part of American agriculture and part of our responsibility,” Vilsack said in his keynote address.

The agency is also nearly ready to launch its Organic Integrity Database that Vilsack said would help producers and other stakeholders appreciate how much potential lies in organic markets.

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The aim of the farm bill-funded organic database was to aggregate organic producer information gathered during the USDA agriculture census, Vilsack said. Trade groups, researchers and USDA will be able to “target resources appropriately” and support the organic market more strategically if they have complete data sets to work with, he added. According to the USDA, the online data clearinghouse is scheduled to go live in September.

In a separate announcement, the USDA said the number of organic operations in the U.S. increased by 5 percent between 2013 and 2014 to a record 19,474 farms.

“Growing demand for organic goods can be especially helpful to smaller family operations,” Vilsack said in a release. “The more diverse type of operations and the more growing market sectors we have in American agriculture, the better off our country's rural economy will be."

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