Photo: Sage Fruit Co. LLC, offers organic versions of the major apple varieties, including red delicious, Pink Lady, fuji, granny smith and Smitten, says Chuck Sinks, president, sales and marketing. ( Courtesy Sage Fruit Co. )

Some supermarkets carry more organically grown fruits and vegetables than others, but today it’s rare to find a store that has no organic offerings.

Lee Anderson, produce manager for Hy-Vee Food Stores Inc., a chain of about 250 supermarkets based in West Des Moines, Iowa, said he has seen the organic category grow significantly at his location in Omaha, Neb., as availability of organic fruits and vegetables increases.

He remembers when the store carried only a few varieties of organic apples.

“Now you have just about every variety of apple,” he said.

About 15% of the items the produce department carries are organically grown, he said.

“We carry a little bit of everything.”

Organic sales at Hy-Vee depend on price and availability, Anderson said.

At the beginning of winter, Honeycrisp apples were Hy-Vee’s top-selling organic item.

Organic sales tend to rise during the summer, when the stores can source from several local organic growers, he said.

During the summer, when the number of facings is greater, berries typically lead in organic category sales, Anderson said.

The stores feature organic produce on ad on a regular basis, he added.

Only a small percentage of the fruits and vegetables that B&R Stores, a group of 20 supermarkets based in Lincoln, Neb., sells is organic, but produce director Randy Bohaty said organic sales are on the rise.

“We’re trying to appeal to our regular customer,” he said, “but we offer some organic alternatives.”

Organic packaged salads are at the top of the category in sales, but berries and table grapes also are popular organic items.

Bohaty merchandises organic and conventional grapes and berries side by side, while most other organic items are displayed in a separate section.

“We try to advertise organics every week,” he said.

Organic produce has “shown a trend of continual growth” at B&R stores, he said. “I can’t see why it’s going to stop.”

Prices and selection of organic items vary by store at the three Lees Market locations, said J.D. Squires, produce manager at the Westport, Mass., location.

“Items that sell well at one store may not sell at others,” he said.

During the winter months, about 10% of the store’s produce is organically grown, but in summer, that number jumps to about 25%, as a number of local organic farmers offer their organic products.

Lettuce and berries were top-selling items in December, along with packaged salads from nearby Olivia’s Organics.

During the summer, locally grown bell peppers and local heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes are popular organic items.

“I’ve got a great local farmer — Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton, R.I. — who does organics,” he said.

As volume increases on organic commodities, Squires said he is able to keep prices down and sell many bulk organic items — such as apples, pears and peppers — for the same price as their conventionally grown counterparts.

“I’ve tried to do that with as many items as I can,” he said.

“The volume that’s there is not going to hurt my gross much, and it’s also getting organics out there for everybody.”

Exceptions are some packaged items, such as organic berries and carrots, which cost somewhat more than conventional products.

There are different levels of organic customers, B&R’s Bohaty said.

Some are “diehard” fans of organics, who buy strictly organic produce all the time, while others may pick up certain organic commodities when the price is right.

Many shoppers prefer organic produce, but “sticker shock” may make them cost-prohibitive for some, Hy-Vee’s Anderson said.

Other consumers will pick up organic fruits and vegetable no matter what the price is.

“The organic buyer is going to buy organic all year-round,” Anderson said.

The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Exposition & Conference (GOPEX) provides a forum to meet the rapidly changing needs of professionals who grow, distribute, pack and market organic produce. This international trade show and conference provides the ideal opportunity for organic produce professionals from around the world to network, exchange ideas, source new products and services, and do business with the industry's leading growers, distributors, packers, marketers and retailers. 

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