Last updated on September 22nd, 2015 at 05:09 pm
A group of organic thought leaders looked into the future and agreed that major challenges need to be overcome for organic to fulfill its potential and move significantly beyond its position of nearly 5 percent of the U.S. food supply.
“The next three to five years are going to be mission-critical for what happens in organic 15 years from now,” said Melissa Hughes, general counsel of organic dairy cooperative Organic Valley and president of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) board of directors. “We have to figure out how to meet the needs of organic farmers now so they will be able to meet the needs of the future.”
Hughes was part of a panel discussion on the current and future state of organic, which kicked off the OTA’s two-day All Things Organic educational conference program at the Natural Products Expo East show in Baltimore. Moderated by OTA Executive Director and CEO Laura Batcha, the panel also included Danielle Nierenberg, founder of Food Tank, and Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain.
The panel saw demand for organic products continuing to grow in the future. Several factors play into this scenario for continued strong organic demand: a growing awareness of the importance of eating healthy food, an increasing desire to know more about the source of our food and how it was produced, a generational shift in consumption and buying trends, and heightened concern about the environmental impacts of the practices of large-scale conventional and industrial agriculture.
Panelists in the All Things Organic session said not having enough organic supplies to meet demand is the No. 1 issue in the rapidly growing organic industry.
“At the rate organic is growing, organic demand could double in six years,” said panelist Clarkson, who is president of Illinois-based Clarkson Grain, an organic corn and soybean supplier. “By 2030, organic could be 10 percent of the U.S. food supply, but how are we going to do that if we lack the raw organic materials? We need to have more organic production in the U.S.”
Batcha and other panelists noted how patterns in organic buying have changed significantly over the years. Organic is no longer mainly purchased at farmers’ markets or specialty food stores; traditional supermarkets and the big-box stores are now huge players in the organic sector.
“New organic buyers are flexible about where they buy organic,” said Batcha. “Millennials have no problem going to the farmers’ market for organic produce in the morning, then driving to their favorite big-box store later to pick up paper towels and, while they’re there, buying some organic cereal.”
Another change in food buying, and most pronounced in the organic sector, is buying food online, pointed out Nierenberg, who said, “It will be exciting to see in the next 15 years how organic can reach more consumers, and how it can scale not just up but out.”