Top trends in 2023 include sustainability, CEA, regenerative
Organic produce is a vibrant industry with an optimistic future, according Matthew Seeley, CEO of Organic Produce Network in Monterey, California.
“People are going to want to continue to eat healthy, nutritious products, and organic fits that bill,” he said. “And that’s why I think we’ve got an opportunity to continue to grow the category.”
Seeley reflected on the growth of the industry, noting double-digit percentage growth year over year in the decades leading up to 2018-19. At that time, the pace slowed a bit, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and sales increased dramatically.
“A lot of that obviously had to do with the fact that restaurants weren’t open, but at the same time grocery stores were doing record-breaking business, with people looking for healthy food options,” Seeley said.
He said 2020 and 2021 were very strong years for the industry. In 2022, however, although dollar sales were up, overall volume decreased. The increase in dollar sales was attributed to inflation.
While he believes 2023 will hold more of the same, he also thinks that consumers will “continue to look for healthy and nutritious food options for their family. And that’s where organic, fresh produce fits the bill.”
Trends in organic
As for trends in 2023, Seeley said sustainability is “front and center.” It is something that is of importance to consumers throughout the production, sales and marketing process, including “going that last mile with retailers.”
According to Seeley, the popularity of sustainability is being driven by the younger generations. “They are very concerned about where their food is grown, how it is grown, where it comes from and what impact it has on the environment.”
Controlled environment agriculture, or CEA, is another growing trend in the industry. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured into it, which promises a better way to grow, Seeley said.
“At the same time, there are challenges ahead of this industry in terms of the amount of energy that is being used, and I think more importantly, how consumers are reacting to this product.”
Seeley said CEA is popular because the process uses no pesticides and little water. It also can be considered a local product.
Another trend is “regenerative,” Seeley said. Unfortunately, there is not a clear definition on what regenerative means for the organic produce industry.
“For many people, they view it as organic plus plus, if you will – a higher form of organic, a higher standard of organics. It is front and center for non-specialty crops.” Those crops include wheat and corn, among others often grown in the Midwest, Seeley said.
As organics become more popular, the price gap between organic and conventional produce continues to narrow. “There are times where organic is at the same price level and sometimes even cheaper than conventional, depending on what the supply situation may be,” Seeley said.
Organic Produce Network works to connect all aspects of the organic fresh produce industry. This includes growers, shippers, producers and allied members of the industry, “whether that’s the seeds, packaging, ag technology, as well as those who buy our products – the retailers, wholesalers across the country.”
OPN connects them through information, education and live events. In addition to its weekly e-newsletter, focused exclusively on organic fresh produce, OPN also hosts a couple of live events that connect the industry with retailers and organic growers.
Its largest event, Organic Produce Summit 2023, is scheduled for July 12-13 in Monterey. Highlights include a sold-out trade show floor featuring 170 organic fresh produce producers, a series of educational sessions and keynotes focused on the top issues facing the industry and a host of networking activities, including a gala night opening reception.
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