Sales of organic brussels sprouts have been increasing over the last several years, a trend that is also mirrored on the conventional side. Once the most-hated vegetable in the US according to a 2008 study by the Heinz Corporation, this bite-size member of the brassica family has been enjoying quite a comeback.
Roland Fumasi, senior fresh produce analyst, Rabo AgriFinance
Roland Fumasi, senior fresh produce analyst at Rabo AgriFinance, says overall brussels sprouts consumption per capita has increased significantly in recent years, registering a compound annual growth rate of 10.7 percent (2006-2008 avg. to 2016-2018 avg.). He says most of the growth has occurred since 2015. In that year, per capita consumption leapt to 0.70 pounds from 0.46 pounds in 2014. And in 2018 (the most recent available USDA data), consumption increased again to 0.82 pounds.
Organic brussels sprouts have shown particularly strong sales growth recently. In the 52-week period ending July 14, 2019, sales increased by 47 percent, making brussels sprouts the third-fastest-growing organic produce item during that time, according to a research report by 210 Analytics commissioned by the Southeastern Produce Council.
Karen Salinger, sales manager, Veritable Vegetable
Mike Neubeck, director of purchasing at Organically Grown Company (OGC), says “demand for [organic] brussels sprouts from OGC accounts has nearly doubled over the past five years.” Karen Salinger, sales manager at Veritable Vegetable, says she’s also seen strong organic brussels sprouts sales over the same period. “We used to have brussels sprouts during a very limited time of year around Thanksgiving,” she says. “And now brussels sprouts are available all year round—and they sell like crazy all year round.” She thinks the increase in demand is likely due to chefs using them more in restaurants, leading consumers to seek them out at the grocery store.
Rabo AgriFinance’s Fumasi agrees. “Most new eating/preparation trends begin with chefs, then transition to the home,” he says. “Traditionally, [brussels sprouts] were boiled, which resulted in a less-than-ideal texture and therefore a less-than-ideal eating experience. Now, chefs have taught us to sauté or broil them. Often consumers cut them in half, drizzle them with olive oil and sea salt, or Italian dressing, then broil them in the oven. The flavor and texture are now something that consumers really enjoy.”
Katie Tossie, organic commodity manager, Ocean Mist
Ocean Mist grows organic and conventional brussels sprouts and has observed an increase in demand in both channels. Like Salinger and Fumasi, Katie Tossie, Ocean Mist’s organic commodity manager, believes the increase in demand for brussels is largely due to their prevalence in restaurants. “Brussels sprouts have become a staple on the plate in the food service channel, which is a heavy influencer on the retail channel,” she says.
Ocean Mist began its organic brussels sprouts program in 2018 due to high demand for the vegetable and for organic produce in general. The company grows its organic brussels in San Benito and Monterey Counties, CA, and they are available May through November in bulk as well as in one-pound net bags.
Annake Ramsey, produce program manager, Organic Valley
Organic Valley has been selling bulk organic brussels sprouts for a number of years, and in 2018, the cooperative debuted a retail pack in partnership with one of its farmer-members, the Langmeier family. The Langmeiers are longtime dairy farmers, and the current generation became interested in diversifying their operation to include organic vegetables. They chose organic brussels sprouts (they now have 70 acres) because they grow well in Wisconsin, and their harvest schedule overlaps with the holiday season. “Demand for both our retail packages and bulk brussels has been very high,” says Annake Ramsey, Organic Valley’s produce program manager.
Covilli Brand Organics has been growing organic brussels sprouts since the ‘90s. Its farming operation is based in Guaymas, Mexico and currently has 100 acres of green brussels and 25 acres of the purple variety. In season from December to May (with some variability due to weather), Covilli’s fair trade organic brussels sprouts are sold to retailers, wholesalers, and restaurants throughout the US and Canada. Last year, the company sold just over a million pounds.
Covilli’s president, Alex Madrigal, says organic brussels sprouts have definitely risen in popularity over the years. For example, he says, when Covilli’s organic brussels program first started, it was much smaller—just 15-20 acres. He notes that as more and more growers have started organic brussels sprouts programs, the vegetable has seen a general downward trend in pricing.
Garland Hatfield, sales manager, Covilli
Brussels sprouts also suffer from what Madrigal refers to as “boom and bust cycles” that occur when spikes in price lead growers to plant more acreage, which then drags the price back down. As a result, growers tend to pare back their planting or exit the space altogether the following season, making a price spike more likely—and the cycle keeps repeating. Weather events like extreme heat, which cause shortages and subsequent price increases, only exacerbate this cyclical effect. To help mitigate risk, Covilli doesn’t expand its acreage more than five percent on any given year. “We’re very [cautious] because the organic market can still get saturated really, really fast,” says Garland Hatfield, Covilli’s sales manager.
Earl’s Organic Produce distributes 12-24 pallets of organic brussels sprouts per week, mostly to independent retailers. The company sources from Covilli as well as from several California growers. “The Mexican quality tends to be better than the California quality,” says Robert Lichtenberg, director of purchasing at Earl’s, adding that he thinks this is due to less insect pressure in Mexico (brussels sprouts attract a number of pests, which can vary depending on the growing region). When it comes to pricing, Lichtenberg says he’s seen “continued pressure downward” over the past five years, which he attributes to an increase in volume as production expands.
As for brussels sprouts’ rise in popularity, Lichtenberg believes it’s due to an increased awareness of the vegetable’s health benefits. “People are always going to gravitate towards what people consider to be superfoods,” he says. “And I think brussels sprouts fall in that category of being extremely nutritious."