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As Organic Industry Grows, It Edges Toward Mainstream

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo
Chives bloom at the Student Organic Farm at Iowa State University. Sales of organic produce continue to rise, exceeding $40 billion for the first time in 2016, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Sales of organic food reportedly climbed to record highs in 2016, an indication organics are edging toward the mainstream.


In a new industry report, the Organic Trade Association says American consumers spent $43 billion on organic products in 2016, which accounts for more than 5 percent of total U.S. food sales, a high water mark for the organic industry.


The counter-culture movement that once agitated the food industry from the periphery has grown much closer to conventional says Iowa State University sociologist Carmen Bain.


“I think there’s a real tension among some producers, organic producers, consumers, advocacy groups, and so forth about what direction to they want organic to go in,” Bain says.


With organic products now coming from some of the nation’s largest growers and processors, such as Driscoll’s berries and Kellogg’s cereals, many early advocates have turned their attention to small, local farms.


Bain says with demand for organic produce continuing to grow, though, more farmers are likely to look toward organic production. It remains a challenge.


“There’s opportunities there for organic farmers and there are farmers who want to take advantage of this demand,” Bain says. “But they need some help in terms of some investment.”


She says that could include government or private sector financial help in transitioning land to organic production, such as a program to help sustain profitability during the three years it takes to transition to organic certification. But she says it’s also important to resolve differences in supports for conventional crops and organic ones, such as crop insurance.


The OTA report also shows growth in sales of organic products such as personal care items and cleaning supplies. Organic produce remains the driver in organic sales, growing last year almost three times as much as the growth in total fruit and vegetable sales.