In the not too distant past organic food was exclusively consumed by hippies and health nuts. “Natural health stores” carried more supplements than fresh food. If you didn’t grow organic yourself (on your back-to-the-land farm) it would have been hard to come by. Sustained double digit market growth for well over a decade has changed the accessibility of organic, but we the market have been changing too—Canadians of all walks of life are striving to make healthier food choices like never before and millennials are the first generation to demand sustainability from every company they support.
The future of food is here, and it’s organic. Thanks to consumer demand organic has mainstreamed in a market sense: Costco is now the largest seller of organic food in the United States and each of Canada’s major grocery retailers have well developed private label organic lines. As the biggest retailers work to put more organic food on their shelves, the smaller-scale and farmer-direct markets are growing too. Farmers’ market sales are booming, sales values grew 2.5 times in six years in BC and by 2012 estimates attributed 40% of those sales to organic vendors.
While this growth is impressive when compared to the relatively flat line of overall food sales, what is even more remarkable is what the future holds. Demographic data tracking organic consumers clearly shows that the only age category not buying organic right now are those over 75. Baby boomers, concerned about their own health and influenced by what their grandchildren are eating, have begun to choose organic foods in larger numbers and those who started buying organic in the 90’s, when their children were young, have continued to buy organic even as they become empty nesters. Families with young children continue to be a solid component of the organic consumer base. While organic baby food is recognized as a gateway to organic buying, the proportion of grocery spending going to organic foods suggests that shoppers are choosing organic products for the whole family, not just the youngest members. Most exciting is that those in the 18-25 category (those highly pursued millennial consumers) are the first generation ever to be committed organic buyers before having families. That’s the demographic data point that has convinced the broader food industry that organic is here to stay.
The Canadian organic market has quadrupled in less than 10 years, pushing annual sales values to $4 Billion and making Canada the 4th largest organic market in the world. Hooray, us. But celebrate quickly, organic sales are growing even faster in the world’s biggest economies—China and India. China is now the 3rd largest organic market globally and India is projected to experience over 25% annual growth in organic sales from 2015-20. Growing health consciousness, sustainability concerns, higher income and education levels as well as improving living standards are driving this incredible growth in Asia and India. With the size of those marketplaces rising organic demand will undoubtedly shape global agriculture production trends in the years to come.
Organic is the new black—a common choice and daily staple. What we need now, and what manufacturers, private foundations, venture funds and even everyday citizens are turning their attention to, is mainstreaming organic in agriculture production. The market has spoken and it’s saying, more organic please.