US organic produce sales top $9 billion in 2021
Organic fresh produce grew sales by 5.5% in 2021, topping $9 billion for the first time, and outpacing conventionally grown produce in year-over-year gains in both sales and volume, according to the 2021 Organic Produce Performance Report released by Organic Produce Network and Category Partners.
Despite the return of foodservice in 2021, organic produce sales and volume at retail outlets still showed year-over-year growth in all four quarters of last year. Total organic fresh produce sales for 2021 were $9.2 billion, an increase of $477 million compared to 2020.
The organic fresh berry category (which includes strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries) was the star performer when it came to year-over-year growth in 2021, with a 14% gain in sales and a 10% rise in volume.
Three categories — packaged salads, berries, and apples — accounted for two-thirds of all organic fresh dollar growth in 2021 compared to 2020. Despite organic berries’ large year-over-year dollar increase, packaged salads were again the number one organic fresh produce category by total sales, topping $1.5 billion.
In 2021, packaged salads continued to have one of the highest organic price premiums — $3.11/lb. over conventional. Organic berries also exhibited significant price premiums over conventional: blackberries ($3.01/lb.), blueberries ($2.18/lb.), and raspberries ($2.52/lb.). Organic bananas, on the other hand, continued to have one of the smallest price premiums at $0.15/lb.
“While a gap remains in the average retail price per pound between organic and conventional, the price increases in both categories last year were remarkably similar,” said Steve Lutz, senior vice president of Insights and Innovation at Category Partners. “The average retail for conventional increased by $0.08/lb. to $1.57/lb., while organic increased from $0.094/lb. to $2.97/lb. Granted the percentage increase in organic [was] smaller, but the aggregate change was very close.”
In 2021, overall organic produce volume increased by 2% year over year, a significantly better figure than the –3.3% volume loss observed in conventional produce. Organic bananas continued to be the biggest volume mover, with 547 million pounds sold in 2021, and they showed a modest 3.4% increase from the previous year.
“It is very apparent that consumer supermarket food purchases the past year reflected more traditional buying trends as compared to the COVID-inspired purchasing changes we saw in 2020,” said Matt Seeley, CEO of Organic Produce Network. “At the same time, we saw many organic fresh produce categories continue to show solid growth as part of the longer-term trend of consumers moving to organic produce and, in turn, growing organic’s share of market.”
Three categories — berries, watermelons, and citrus — drove total organic volume increases in 2021. Several powerhouse organic categories had year-over-year volume declines, including packaged salads, potatoes, and carrots. Organic carrots saw a volume decrease of –4.4%, and they were the only top 10 organic produce sales category to experience a sales decline (–1.3%) from 2020.
“Sales of organic produce in 2021, while up a bit less than expected, remain on par with the historical long-term growth trends we have come to expect for organic produce,” said Lutz. “As the foodservice sector reopened, consumers began to shift some meals back to foodservice channels. The net result in 2021 is many produce categories — especially vegetables — had weaker growth when matched against 2020.”
All four geographic regions of the country experienced modest single-digit dollar growth in 2021, with the strongest gains made in the South. That region saw organic dollars jump 7.6%, while volume increased 4.3%. The West experienced year-over-year sales growth of 3.6%, while volume was flat.
The fourth quarter of 2021 saw the eighth consecutive quarter of organic sales growth, with a 4.9% increase from the same period last year. Organic produce sales for the fourth quarter topped $2.7 billion, with the berry category leading the way in year-over-year dollar and volume growth. With sales of more than $333 million, organic berries were up 22% in dollars and 19% in volume compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.
The 2021 Organic Produce Performance Report utilized Nielsen retail scan data covering total food sales and outlets in the US from January through December 2021. A complete version of this report will be made available on the Organic Produce Network website in mid-February.