Organic Food Sales Top $49 Billion in 2017; Accounts for 5.5 Percent of Overall U.S. Food Sales

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, June 2018
By Steven Hoffman

When the Environmental Working Group reported in April 2018 that conventionally grown apples contain on average 4.4 toxic, synthetic pesticide residues, some at high concentrations that don’t wash off, more and more consumers are getting the clue that the old adage has changed: “It’s the organic apple a day that keeps the doctor away!”

So many consumers are buying into organic these days, in fact, that overall sales of organic foods will soon top $50 billion. According to the latest data released in May 2018 from the Organic Trade Association (OTA), sales of organic products totaled $49.4 billion in 2017, reflecting an increase of 6.4 percent and new sales of nearly $3.5 billion over the previous year. 

Sales of organic foods grew the same – 6.4 percent – to $45.2 billion, and sales of organically produced non-food products increased 7.4 percent to $4.2 billion.

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The growth rate for organic food sales was short of the 9 percent growth recorded in 2016, “impacted by markedly slowed growth in the big organic dairy and egg category,” said the OTA in a release. However, organic food sales were well above that of the overall food market, which barely grew at 1.1 percent. “Organic continued to increase its penetration into the total food market, and now accounts for 5.5 percent of the food sold in retail channels in the U.S.” OTA said.

This year’s annual survey marks the 20th year OTA has released data tracking the organic industry’s growth. Widely regarded as the most comprehensive look at the retail organic sector in America, the survey first measured organic sales in 1997. That year, organic food sales were pegged at $3.4 billion; 2017’s sales of over $45 billion reflect a growth of nearly 15 times. In the last decade alone, the U.S. organic market has more than doubled in size, reports OTA.

Fresh fruit and vegetables continued to be the largest organic food category, posting $16.5 billion in sales and 5.3 percent growth over 2016 sales. Another category standout was organic beverages, with fresh juices driving 10.5 percent growth to sales of $5.9 billion in 2017. Nonfood items grew significantly, including organic fashion and fiber, which grew 11 percent to $1.6 billion, and organic dietary supplements, the sales of which increased 9 percent in 2017. 

“Organic has arrived. And everyone is paying attention,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “Our survey shows there are now certified organic products in the marketplace representing all stages of the life cycle of a product or a company—from industry veterans to start-ups that are pioneering leading edge innovation and benefits and getting shelf space for the first time. Consumers love organic, and now we’re able to choose organic in practically every aisle in the store.”

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.