A new year brings new challenges and opportunities----and predictions on what fruit or vegetable item will make waves in 2018 and which will wilt away.
OPN asked organic industry insiders to share their thoughts on organic produce trends for 2018. Our experts had plenty to say about who drives trends, what upcoming items may become consumer obsessions and what issues concern them most.
A consistent theme among the panel was the use of social media and digital marketing as key drivers of food trends. They agree consumers now receive a significantly large portion of their information through various social media platforms.
“Image-based media like Instagram or high-quality blogs—like Smitten Kitchen, 101 Cookbooks and Sprouted Kitchen—all incorporate a certain lifestyle into food, that influence food trends,” said Maroka Kawamura, Produce Director of New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz, CA.
A pair of insiders said social media helps propel new product trends. “The produce industry will continue to capitalize off the social media glut of new ideas like cauliflower crumbles, veggie noodles, and convenience products”, said Myles Chasser, Produce Buyer of Four Seasons Produce in Ephrata, PA. Likewise, Shari Zinn, Produce Buyer of Charlie’s Produce in Portland, OR agrees convenience oriented products will continue to be a major factor in 2018. “It’s not just the millennials that are Snapchatting throughout their day or following their favorite chefs and food bloggers,” Zinn said. “It’s also my 67-year-old mom.”
Millennials remain the primary consumer target for the organic industry, and their uncompromising demand for organic fresh produce and transparency in food systems, will be top of mind throughout the New Year. Melody Meyer, VP CSR Policy & Industry Relations at UNFI said, “Twenty-five percent of the millennials are parents. In the next 10 to 15 years, 80 percent of millennials will be moms and dads. What this means for the organic market could be transformative.”
While our insiders noted a variety of produce items with star potential for 2018, a few stuck out. Among the highlights:
- American consumers will continue their obsession for organic mangoes, the most consumed fruit in the world, with a variety of international consumer education campaigns driving consumption.
- Cauliflower will be the new kale. Julie Kocjancic, Replenishment Buyer for Albert’s Fresh Denver, thinks cauliflower continues to have outstanding growth opportunities. Readily available in white, purple and orange hues, in florets, crumbles and pizza crusts, organic cauliflower became a hot commodity in 2017 and the trend is expected to continue in the new year. Digital images of inspired dishes on social media propel this trend.
- Organic chili peppers and fresh herbs will be intriguing niche items. The chili pepper line continues to evolve and according to Brian Everett of Del Cabo Sales in Los Angeles, CA, the yellow chili pepper has promising potential in 2018.
Organic fresh herbs continue to maintain very strong sales and New Leaf’s Kawamura said education is key to continued growth “It takes a while for consumers to understand how to use them and how to pair them,” he said, , “but once they get into the groove they recognize how much flavor fresh herbs can add.”
Consumers will also be influenced by supply and sustainability trends. Tom Lively, Senior Sales Account Representative of Organically Grown Company in Eugene, OR, said consumers are now anticipating consistent availability and greater varietal offerings. “Blueberries, which were only available for a couple months of the year are now available year-round, and we see more citrus and stone fruit varietals coming onto the scene, he said.
The ugly produce trend and increased organic shelf space are most likely to help organic growers. “We throw out too much product at all levels of the supply chain because it’s not “visually appealing.” Myles Chasser, of Four Seasons Produce said. He believes the “ugly trend can help farmers by easing our visual standards,” while the increased organic shelf space should help expand organic production.
Zinn of Charlie’s Produce said many conventional green vegetables, like chard and kale, are going organic in mainstream produce department. “The consumer who seeks out these items prefers organic, “she said, “and it doesn’t dissuade the consumer who wasn’t necessarily looking for an organic option.”
Among areas of concern among our industry experts are consolidation, price deflation, and an overall loss of identity while the industry continues to meet the challenges of steady supplies in 2018. Tom Lively says, “Consolidation and price deflation, the lack of mission alignment and a move toward venture capitalists in the industry creates enormous challenges for the survival of the small and medium farmer.”
Rick Christianson, Coop Partners Purchasing Manager of St. Paul, MN adds, “Even retailers who are committed to small farms that build the soil and care for the workers are being squeezed out by big box retailers, who buy market share with race-to-the-bottom pricing mentality.”
Kawamora worries some operations are losing their identity in the hustle to catch organic trends and get in step with the competition. She thinks it’s worth noting that “the value in being a little more specific in what we are all offering as an industry allows us to speak to customers more clearly, market more effectively and attract better, more engaged employees.”
Our Organic Industry Insiders Brian Everett, Del Cabo Sales (20yrs), Julie Kocjancic, Albert’s Fresh Denver Replenishment Buyer (18yrs). Tom Lively, Organically Grown Company Account Rep (37yrs), Melody L. Meyer, UNFI VP CSR Policy & Industry Relations (39yrs), Maroka Kawamura, New Leaf Community Markets Program and Category Manager, Produce and Floral (18yrs), Shari Zinn, Charlie’s Produce Portland Organic Buyer (8yrs), Rick Christianson, Coop Partners Purchasing Manager (29yrs), Myles P Chaser, Four Seasons Produce Organic Buyer (28yrs).