Braga is very bullish on the organic sector, as his company is transitioning about 500 acres per year from conventional to organic to satisfy the ever-increasing demand. In fact, he believes the coronavirus situation could add to that demand even after it is gone. He theorizes that the amount of home cooking that has occurred during this era of COVID could create a significant increase in organic produce demand post-COVID at foodservice.
Braga believes there are many consumers – especially in New York and other big cities – that have had to alter their eating habits and are now shopping at the grocery store, and eating at home three times a day rather than in restaurants because they have been largely shuttered for the last three months. He said this consumer segment has helped increase retail demand during the pandemic and may well do the same at foodservice once restaurants reopen fully, as they will want to order those same products when dining out.
“From your mouth to God’s ears,” said Antle, who has been trying to increase organic produce sales at foodservice throughout her career.
Rich Mendonsa, vice president of produce and floral procurement for Albertsons, reminded that even without a pandemic, organic sales have been trending upward. He revealed the “O” brand is a $1 billion sector for Albertons/Safeway with 1,500 items across 180 categories. He also predicted that the increase in produce demand would last beyond COVID as consumers have been reminded that their food dollar stretches further in the supermarket and he doesn’t expect that they will abandon the concept of eating healthy.
Kocher made a similar observation, predicting that two COVID trends he sees will have legs. He said both organic produce sales and on-line shopping were already growth areas that received a “jump start” during these shelter-in-place times. He believes there were new shoppers introduced to both of these opportunities and those shoppers will continue to fuel the growth beyond the pandemic.
He also commented that retailers are re-examining their product lines and organics may also get a boost from this SKU rationalization effort. Kocher asked if there is really a need for twin SKUs on some items. “If you offer organic Bok Choy, do you really need conventional Bok Choy?”
Mendonsa agreed, stating that with the significant uptick in demand for produce during the pandemic, if your fresh produce item “didn’t sell during COVID, maybe we don’t need it after COVID.”