Organic industry experts were recently invited to share their thoughts on organic produce trends for 2020, and while they were less enthusiastic about the word trend, the industry insiders had plenty to say about what excites and concerns them for the year ahead in produce.
The bottom line: there is shared excitement over continued growth in the organic category, while acknowledging how far the industry has come this past decade. “Trends can open people’s eyes to items they may not have been comfortable picking up previously, and they can bring popularity back to some fruits and veggies that we have forgotten over the years," Shari Zinn of Charlies Portland said, noting marketing efforts can drive trends. “All we have to do is take one look at Cosmic Crisp apples and the amazing marketing job that was done to create such wild demand and hype for a new apple variety.”
Shari Zinn, Organic and Conventional Produce Buyer, Charlies Portland
Ben Johnson of Bridges Produce appreciates the emphasis given to organic produce via marketing efforts and social media. “I saw a TikTok video recently on how to cut a pomegranate and, like so many things in the past 30 odd years, the Internet and social media has hastened the pace of conversation in every corner of business and life.”
Increasing interest in ‘health and wellness’ is a major consumer driver, and according to Johnson has contributed to the past surges in popularity for kale, cauliflower, avocados, and blueberries.
Zinn said meal kits in grocery stores based on surging consumer demand means convenience will continue to be a major trend for 2020. “The fact that the meal kits sector has made its way into grocery stores is important. At the grocery store level, companies have found a way to get around everyone’s busy schedule and lack of time to pre-order. These kits are not grab-and-going, since you still need to prepare them, but they have removed the obstacle of planning," she said. “As for the future of this trend, more stores will offer one- and two-hour home delivery options. You can order your groceries and a meal kit, plus a bottle of wine and have it waiting for you when you arrive home. The trip to the store has been removed.”
Ben Johnson, President, Bridges Produce
Matt Stocks, director of organics for Melissa’s World Variety, agreed saying “meal kits have morphed into the meal solution category, have passed trend stage, and are here to stay.”
Plant-based diets and convenience trends are also exciting industry experts. Bu Nygrens of Veritable Vegetable, said plant-based diet trends drive consumers to purchase more fruit and vegetable protein alternatives, like mushrooms. She said specialty avocados, ginger and tropical items top the list of trending items.
Nygrens was quick to compliment the work done by Frieda’s Specialty Produce, “They paved the way and introduced so many of the early tropical and exotics: kiwi, star fruit, dragon fruit, and countless others. Many of these exotics that were previously all imported are popping up in local growing regions,” she said.
Experts weigh in on "What's In" and "What's Out"
When queried as to which conventional fresh produce items retailers will or should move into all organic offerings, industry experts started with core commodity items. Zinn believes retailers should make transition the leafy bunched green category to all organic, while Nygrens thinks it would be great to have 100 percent organic broccoli and strawberries on the list.
Regenerative agriculture has received much attention and excitement recently and is poised to be one of the most talked about aspects of organics this year. “This a fascinating topic to me. How can agriculture (specifically fresh produce production) help mitigate climate change, and how can growers garner support from the market for their extraordinary practices, “Johnson asked.
Nygrens said “Organic farmers, particularly those on the smaller and mid-sized scale, tend to be more innovative and open to change, and consequently they will have the advantage and fuel the most growth behind regenerative agriculture in 2020.”
Bu Nygrens, Owner, Veritable Vegetable
Climate change, farm consolidations, and a lack and/or total loss of transparency were also raised as top concerns among industry experts. David Weinstein, head organic buyer for Heath and Lejeune, said that he isn’t interested in trends, and instead focuses on what customers care about. “Our customers are concerned with climate change and want the food they buy to reflect and embody that concern,” Weinstein said.
One of the biggest concerns for 2020, Weinstein said, is the potential of more major consolidations. “This is a big problem for our industry that has been growing in years prior with the continuing loss of small scale and medium size farmers, packers and shippers, as well as small and medium sized local and regional retailers, loss of traditional organic specialist wholesalers, and the continuing consolidation among wholesalers leaving fewer and larger competitors in the market place,” he said.
Overall there is plenty of excitement about the continued growth in organics, with more concerns on the production side, as industry experts continue to meet growing consumer demands for organic produce.