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Gone are the days of natural and organic being the realm of aging hippies and “crunchy granola” types. The category has made the move into the mainstream, with young mothers and grandmothers as likely to buy such products as anyone else. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. households now buy some organic products, according to Schaumburg, Ill.-based SPINS.
“I think the customer has changed just by their overall love of food,” affirms Mike Zupan, owner of Zupan’s Market, in Portland, Ore. “Their desire for knowledge, their desire to educate themselves on food, has completely grown. I think it’s been the healthy, young families that have led the resurgence and want to feed their families healthier than maybe what they grew up eating.”
The products are available in more than 100,000 outlets, from convenience stores to chain supermarkets to independents and specialty stores, according to SPINS, and U.S. sales are close to $100 billion this year.
In the past five years, the natural channel has seen 60 percent growth in sales volume and 28 percent growth in store count, according to SPINS data. Natural products in conventional outlets account for nearly 6 percent of the total channel dollar volume.
Zupan, whose four stores have operated in Portland for 40 years, has seen the growth firsthand. While the stores aren’t 100 percent natural/organic, they offer a large number of organic, unprocessed foods, and the location in the Northwest puts them on the cusp of the expanding market, which, according to Zupan, really started to grow in the ’90s.
The demand began in the meat and produce departments. “We were one of the first companies to carry all-natural, no-antibiotic meats, and certainly produce is a signature department. It started in produce, working with local farmers and buying local products,” Zupan says. “I think consumers started to like what they were seeing in those categories and wanted it in all the other products, your mainline grocery and deli, or frozen or canned products.”