Bounding on to the stage at the third annual Organic Produce Summit in Monterey, California, Geoff White, President of Albertson’s Own Brands, including the bestselling O Organic brand, called out to the thousand-plus audience members, “How does it feel to be part of the fastest growing segment in the grocery business?”
White should know – Albertson’s recently announced that the O organic brand had reached $1 billion in sales. His unique vantage point to watch to the expansion and explosion of organic fresh produce began in the mid-1980 as a produce manager in British Columbia. He recalled creating his first organic section with a batch of organic green onions. At $4.99 a bunch they were not a bargain, and he failed to sell one bunch. Not a success, but it was a beginning, as organic food totaled less than $3 billion in sales thirty years ago.
Geoff White, President of Albertson’s Own Brands
According to White, by 2008, the industry had found its footing. Supply was keeping up with demand, more assortment was available, and the industry experienced impressive growth. “Over the next ten years organic food sales grew more than 10 percent a year from 20 billion to close to 45 billion dollars. There is nothing in the store that has done that,” said White with obvious excitement.
He acknowledges some current angst in the organic segment, though. “This question of plateauing or maturing in the organic industry is scary for all of us, but even with that, reports have organics growing at north of 6%. Put that in context with rest of the grocery store, which is only growing at about 1%. Still a fantastic growth story.”
Speaking in front of an overflow room of 1,000 organic growers, producers and marketers, White reassured them that opportunities for future growth are there. He said his company’s O Organic mantra is “organics for all” and with that goal, comes more products and more consumer choice.
“In 2017, we launched 200 new products. In 2018, we will launch 500 new products. Not all are produce but a lot of them are and that’s important because the gateway to an organic lifestyle is through the produce department. That’s good news for producers.”
Speaking in front of an overflow room of 1,000 organic growers, producers and marketers, White reassured them that opportunities for future organic growth are there.
White also said that combining value and trust – the USDA organic seal is critical - with accessibility of products is a good recipe for continued growth. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “I believe that a beautiful, well merchandised, full, fresh, and colorful produce department is always going to be incredibly important to retailers but there is no denying that the e-commerce business is growing and growing fast.” To emphasize the point, White noted his company just announced a partnership with Instacart for an online organic marketplace.
As a leading retail executive in the organic arena, White said he looks at data and research, plots strategy based on consumer attitudes and trends, but his central belief in the future of organics may emanate from an even simpler place.
“The Jetson’s lied to us,” he said. “Remember them? Flying cars, robot assistance…a little synthetic food pill? Back then the arch of food evolution was going toward a pill but what has really happened is the arch is bending is a different way. We are going back to way it used to be. Years ago, all produce was organic. So, in 50 to 100 years will everything be organic again? I can imagine our great great grandchildren eating more like our great great grandparents than we eat today. How exciting would that be?”