Into the Mainstream: What’s Next for Organic Food and Beverage?
The organic market continues its decades-long growth trajectory via expansion into the mainstream, making organic food and beverages in all categories more accessible than ever.
Posted: May 9, 2022
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Building on the Hartman Group’s long-standing syndicated research into the organic market that dates back more than 25 years, our latest report, Organic 2022: So, Now, Then, explores the transformation of organic from a social movement-based niche category to a mainstream marker of quality in food and beverage categories.
Bio 2022: then, now, then finds that after a surge at the start of the pandemic, the organic market is continuing its decades-long growth trajectory via expansion into the mainstream, making organic food and beverages across all categories more accessible than ever in terms of availability and of price.
Early in the pandemic, when information about COVID-19 was still scarce, many consumers turned to nutrition and supplements to assert some control over their health. Beyond remedies like elderberry and vitamin C, many have chosen to focus on better nutrition and exercise as proven preventative measures. Amid conflicting health information and a tumultuous economic and political climate, consumers looking for a healthier option have turned to organic products because of their confidence in USDA certification and the ability to easily identify these products in-store.
Organic products have also become more readily available and affordable, with mainstream grocers and club stores offering a greater selection of national and private label organic foods and beverages. While the initial organic boom in 2020 slowed during the pandemic, organic growth continued to pick up as wellness culture took on a more urgent tone in response to the ongoing pandemic. Additionally, the reach of the wellness culture has continued to extend to issues of social equity, labor rights, environmental justice, and community health, creating an evolving organic landscape.
Organic food and beverages are becoming mainstream and exist to some degree in virtually every food and beverage category today: 82% of consumers say they use organic food and beverages at least sometimes, with millennials leading the way . Organic has become a staple for many, even among baby boomers, the slowest age group to adopt organic products, with nearly a fifth (18%) saying they use them at least once a week. week. The use of organic products has also increased in frequency, with almost half (47%) of Millennials using organic products at least once a week.
However, the expansion of organic has also fueled a paradox of choice in which consumers must navigate an increasingly complex decision-making landscape around healthy and organic food options.
- Faced with greater choice and an increased degree of health anxiety, many consumers are turning to organic for healthier options, although detailed knowledge of USDA organic certification criteria has not necessarily increased.
- Organic has become much more accessible in recent years, both in terms of wide availability across all channels and in terms of lower price premiums (noted by long-term organic consumers), although price remains a barrier for many.
- As organic has grown, the category’s adoption path has remained largely consistent, with produce, dairy and meat being the main entry points for organic along with other special categories (eg, baby food, plant-based alternatives).
Features indicative of future growth and evolution are reflected in consumer engagement with organic products, as measured by the reach of organic purchases across more than 21 food and beverage categories analyzed in the report.
- 60% of consumers who shop for fresh produce say they have purchased organic food in this category in the last three months, followed by 55% indicating organic purchases in plant-based meat alternatives and 49% indicating organic shopping in plant-based dairy substitutes.
- Organic shopping categories showing significant increases and momentum from 2020 include fresh meat and seafood, chilled dairy, packaged food, pet food and treats, packaged food and packaged frozen foods.
What future for organic?
Overall, we see organic product sales continuing on a decades-long growth trajectory as consumers increasingly seek to take control of their health. The return to double-digit organic food sales growth in 2020 was fueled by early pandemic stockpiling behaviors and increased demand for foods that promote disease resilience. Industry forecasts call for a slower pace in 2021-22 but still steady growth.
As for the sequel, Bio 2022: then, now, then predicts that with the organic market now mature and continuing to grow in depth and breadth, organic producers and retailers have the opportunity to innovate with confidence, offering branded and private label products across all categories that would appeal to both the general public and grassroots trends (e.g. highly organic consumers) and address the needs they have but feel they cannot currently meet.
Opportunities also exist in foodservice: as consumer demand for organic at retail and brand level continues to grow, there is also a growing desire for organic in everyday foodservice venues as well as in upscale restaurants.
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As CEO of The Hartman Group, Demeritt leads the vision, strategy, operations and results-driven culture for the firm’s associates as The Hartman Group grows its tactical thinking, consumer intelligence offerings and market, cultural competence and innovative intellectual capital in a global market. .
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