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The booming U.S. organic industry posted new records in 2015, with total organic product sales hitting a new benchmark of $43.3 billion, up a robust 11 percent from the previous year's record level and far outstripping the overall food market's growth rate of 3 percent, according to the Organic Trade Association's 2016 Organic Industry Survey.
The industry saw its largest annual dollar gain ever in 2015, adding $4.2 billion in sales, up from the $3.9 billion in new sales recorded in 2014. Of the $43.3 billion in total organic sales, $39.7 billion were organic food sales, up 11 percent from the previous year, and non-food organic products accounted for $3.6 billion, up 13 percent. Nearly 5 percent of all food sold in the U.S. is organic.
2015 was a year of significant growth for the industry despite the continued struggle to meet the seemingly unquenchable consumer demand for organic. Supply issues persisted to dominate the industry, as organic production in the U.S. lagged behind consumption. In response, the organic industry came together in creative and proactive ways to address the supply challenge, to improve and develop infrastructure, and to advocate for policy to advance the sector.
"The industry joined in collaborative ways to invest in infrastructure and education, and individual companies invested in their own supply chains to ensure a dependable stream of organic products for the consumer. Despite all the challenges, the organic industry saw its largest dollar growth ever. Organic will continue to be the most meaningful farm-to-fork — and fiber — system," said OTA's CEO and Executive Director Laura Batcha.
Produce the Gateway to Organic
Organic produce retained its longstanding spot as the largest of all the organic categories with sales of $14.4 billion, up 10.6 percent. Produce has always been and continues to be a gateway to organic. It's easy for shoppers to make the connection between agricultural practices used in the field and the fresh fruit or vegetables they bite into. Almost 13 percent of the produce sold in this country is now organic.
The demand for fresh organic was most evident in the continued growth of "fresh juices and drinks," which saw explosive growth of 33.5 percent in 2015, making it the fastest-growing of all the organic subcategories. The fastest-growing of the eight major organic categories was condiments, which crossed the $1 billion mark in sales for the first time in 2015, on 18.5 percent growth.
Dairy, the second biggest organic food category, accounted for $6.0 billion in sales, an increase of over 10 percent. Dairy accounts for 15 percent of total organic food sales.
"Farm fresh foods—produce and dairy—are driving the market. Together, they account for more than half of total organic food sales," Batcha observed. "The organic market looks like a healthy plate."
That said, Americans still like to snack, and more and more of us are snacking organically. Also seeing a big growth in sales in 2014 – and more than triple the level of just 10 years ago—was the organic snack food category, with sales of $2.3 billion, up almost 14 percent from 2014.