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Non-traditional organic markets show gains

By Jim Offner | The Packer

What regions, outside the traditional Northeast and West Coast, are showing the most gains in organic sales?

The answer to that question often varies by company, but the category is growing in regions not normally known for organics consumption.

"I think the Midwest is the slowest into (generating momentum in organics sales), but they're still picking up," said Peter Oill, sales and marketing manager for Oxnard, Calif.-based Purepak Inc.

The traditionally strong organic markets in the Northeast and the West Coast continue to dominate sales, Oill said.

"The South is also growing," he said. "There's more and more organic distributors going into the South. That's the final frontier."

Selah, Wash.-based L&M Cos. has noticed a jump in sales in the Midwest, as well, said John Long, sales manager.

"We are seeing Minneapolis and Chicago using more organic," he said. "I wouldn't single out a certain area, but probably the Midwest and Upper Midwest would be the two areas I've seen more growth in the last four or five years."

The Midwest also has caught the notice of Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets the Melissa's brand.

"We've been working with retailers there for about five years, and we're showing them how successful it's been, and we're using those successful stories to help them build successful programs," said Matt Stocks, organic vegetable buyer for World Variety Produce.

It's not always easy, Stocks noted.

"It's a tough sell," he said. "It's meat and potatoes there. But you know what? It's working. The key is education."

The company often starts a customer with "low-cost experiments," Stocks said.

Then, he said, the program takes hold.

"Once they start, they keep going," he said. "All we need is a blessing for them to allow us to have store. When they see the success of the sales — the happiness and inquiries for more — it's very easy to make the next step."

John Harley, sales manager of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Anthony Vineyards Inc., said organics sales are growing across the U.S.

"I think, at different levels, you're seeing the Southeast now starting to embrace it and develop into it," he said.

Overseas expansion

Stocks said his company also is working to expand the organics market overseas, as well.

"We're actually doing a really good job with a particular customer in Dubai," he said. "It's a new area for us in organics. We're shipping most commodities that are pretty consistent with conventional — things like carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, even bagged salads."

Reedley, Calif.-based Valliwide Marketing Inc. also is looking overseas, said Bill Schene, salesman with the company.

"We're starting to get more interest in export trade," he said. "China and Taiwan seem to be showing more interest in organic products. We ship very small amounts, but it is growing and they're becoming more sophisticated. It's not like a huge volume area, but it seems to be some interest in those areas."

Canada continues to show promise as an organics destination, said Scott Mabs, marketing director at Porterville, Calif.-based Homegrown Organic Farms.

"Canada has always been strong and is still growing," Mabs said. "Especially in eastern Canada, there's a good organic interest."

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