Future Looks Bright for Organic Produce Growth

Chris and Eva Worden of Worden Farm in Punta Gorda, FL

Chris and Eva Worden’s farm in Punta Gorda, FL, places an emphasis on engaging the community to increase demand for organic produce.
Photo by Frank Giles

The demand for organic foods is on the rise as consumers seek out an every increasing diversity of fruits and vegetables grown organically. It has been one of the fastest growing sectors of U.S. agriculture for years.

The Organic Trade Association tracks demand through its annual Organic Industry Survey, which reported sales of organic food at about $47 billion in 2016. That reflected an increase of $3.7 billion in sales from 2015. With those sales, organic food now represents 5.3% of all food sales in the country.


Changing Attitudes
In the marketing world, it is all about the Millennials. They have become the largest consumer segment in the U.S. and are a prime target for organic growers. Their lifestyles and beliefs meld well with organic production.

Because of their importance to growers, the “2017 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Behaviors Study” for the first time surveyed households without children. Currently, 25% of Millennials are parents. Within the next 10 to 15 years, that figure is expected to increase to 80%.

The 2017 survey shows the group is a large buyer of organic products, and as more Millennials become parents, their demand for organics is expected to grow.

“Millennials are the largest consumer group in the U.S., and they’re choosing organic,” says Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “As more members of this generation become parents, their presence in the organic market will just get stronger. This year’s survey findings clearly show the positive relationship between organic and parenting.”

The rise of online retailing also trends well for organic food sales and demand (see more on page 6). Digital technology is an ingrained part of Millennials’ daily life.

More Millennials shop for groceries online than older parents (40% vs. 30%). Online grocery shopping is still in its early stages, but the survey revealed that attitudes regarding online grocery shopping point to a bright future for organic. Twenty percent of those surveyed said they like the quality of organic produce purchased online; 17% said online grocery shopping is a convenient and easy way to shop organic; and 10% reported an increase in organic purchases because of online shopping. This all suggests online shopping has strong potential for increasing organic consumption among U.S. families.

Millennial parents use digital sources of information to learn about new products — online product reviews, blog posts, and mobile apps — more frequently than older parents who prefer traditional information sources like commercials, coupons, and recommendations from friends.

All About Community
Florida organic growers who have enjoyed marketing success have built a sense community around their farm operations, building loyal customer bases who enjoy that aspect. Farm memberships, farmers’ markets, U-Picks, and hosting events like farm-to-table dinners all help establish the sense of community necessary for a successful farm marketing plan.

Punta Gorda, FL-based Worden Farm is a great example of an operation built around community. The farm, operated by Eva and Chris Worden, has a wide range of products for sale and a diverse way to purchase those items. Customers can purchase a membership to its “Organic Veggie Box” offering, which provides weekly delivery of eight vegetable items for 20 weeks from December to April.

During the season, they set up farm stands at the downtown Sarasota and St. Petersburg farmers’ markets, as well as one at Lakewood Ranch. In addition, they have an on-farm CSA of several hundred members. They also host numerous workshops, tours, and farm-to-table events throughout the year.

The Wordens do a good job engaging the public through their presence on social media. Nearly 20,000 people are a fan of their Facebook page and their Twitter feed (@wordenfarm) has more than 1,300 followers.

“This is very important to Chris and me personally because we want to provide people with more than just produce,” Eva says. “We believe agriculture can provide many more services to the public than just commodities, especially when done in an environmentally conscious way that creates a healthy place where people want to be. There is recreational and educational value in those kinds of places, which is what we want to create on our farm.”