The performance of individual organic produce categories, which many consumers see as important to food safety, ranged widely last year, according to the State of Organic Produce 2022, a report released by the Organic Produce Network (ONP).

The 72-page report provides an overall view of organic produce retail performance in 2022 and specific insights into the top 20 organic produce categories.

While total organic produce sales increased by 3 percent and volume decreased by −3.7 percent year over year, the performance of the top 20 categories was quite variable as inflation and other pressures created a dynamic market environment.

The best performers in terms of year-over-year sales increases were onions at 15.4 percent, cucumbers at 11.3 percent and potatoes at 10.7 percent. The worst performers were lettuce at −3.1 percent, celery at −2.3 percent, and bell peppers at −2.1 percent.

On the volume side, the best-performing organic commodities year over year were grapes at 6.9 percent, herbs and spices at 6.5 percent and cucumbers at 2.7 percent, while the weakest were lettuce at −12.7 percent, avocados at −11.4 percent and apples at −10.3 percent.

The three bottom year-over-year volume performers all had significant contributing factors beyond inflation. Lettuce suffered aphid pressure in the desert because of warmer temperatures in the first and second quarters and was later dealt a devastating blow by INSV (impatiens necrotic spot virus) in the Salinas Valley in the fall/early winter; avocados had a lower-than-normal volume out of Mexico in the first half of the year; and apple supply was impacted by a very small Washington crop.

Two categories that bucked the organic produce sector’s overall trend of increased sales and decreased volume were fresh herbs and spices, and grapes. Both categories posted year-over-year increases in sales and volume, with organic herbs and spices showing gains of 4.1 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively, and organic grapes showing respective gains of 8.3 percent and 6.9 percent. In short, last year’s highly inflationary environment wasn’t able to keep these two categories down.  

When it came to the top spot by total retail sales, berries took the lead in 2022, edging out packaged salads ever so slightly with $1.561 billion in sales. Packaged salad sales totaled $1.556 billion.

Bananas held on to their spot as the top volume mover with nearly 509 million pounds sold at retail in 2022.

One data set that gives a look into organic produce performance is the price premiums commanded by various organic categories over their conventional counterparts. Of the categories analyzed, organic cucumbers took the lead in price premium percentage in 2022, selling for an average of 138 percent more per pound than conventional cucumbers. Celery, on the other hand, had one of the lowest premiums at 22 percent, dropping from 32 percent in 2021. Apparently, consumers were willing to pay a pretty penny for an organic cucumber compared to a conventional one, but organic celery did not enjoy a similar elevated status.

Organic bananas, which were grappling with increased costs last year, had a very welcome gain in their price premium over conventional bananas, jumping from 25 percent in 2021 to 32 percent in 2022.

State of Organic Produce 2022 also explores the 20 leading categories by their regional performance, which varied quite widely in certain circumstances. A notable example was organic celery, which lost significant year-over-year volume in every region except the West where it posted an enormous gain of 26.7 percent, suggesting perhaps that the organic celery juicing trend is far more popular there than in the other three regions.

Another incidence of disparate regional data involved organic fresh herbs and spices, which declined in volume in the Northeast by −9.4 percent yet posted a whopping 19.7 percent increase in the West. The latter region was clearly making these culinary favorites a priority in 2022 despite inflation.

In terms of year-over-year performance that was consistent across the US, organic onions were a prime example as they enjoyed double-digit sales gains in all four regions, which makes sense given their staple status.

Packaged salads, an organic produce mainstay, also had similar results across all four regions, declining in volume by mid-single digits and increasing in sales by low single digits, closely reflecting the performance of the overall organic produce category.

The State of Organic Produce 2022 report can be found here for more insights into last year’s organic produce performance.

The OPN is a marketing organization that serves as the go-to resource for the organic fresh produce industry. The company’s mission is to inform and educate through a strong digital presence with an emphasis on original content complemented by live events that bring together various components of the organic produce community. OPN’s target audience includes organic producers, handlers, distributors, processors, wholesalers, food service operators, and retailers.

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