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We Are Essential: The Staples that Feed Our Families

by Jane Sooby |
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The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that families value high quality, organic food. While the impact of COVID-19 on food and agriculture has been uneven across sectors, the demand for some types of organic processed foods, such as pre-cut vegetable assortments and pantry staples, has increased as families search for healthy options while saying at home. 

Beyond the health benefits, organic processed foods are an important part of California’s economy. The California Department of Public Health recently reported that organic processors made $15.5 billion in gross sales in 2019, a 17 percent increase over 2018 sales. Organic processed food purchases are being lifted further by “pandemic buying”—fewer trips to the grocery store with families stocking up on larger bulk purchases and healthy staples.

The increased focus on personal health and wellness during a disease outbreak leads more people to purchase organic products, according to John McKeon, director of organic integrity and compliance with Taylor Farms. Taylor Farms is seeing a surge in retail sales of prepackaged organic salad mixes and organic cut vegetable products such as party trays with dips and floretted cauliflower and broccoli. 

Moreover, organic sales are helping to offset losses from parts of the business that have declined during the pandemic. Taylor Farms expects to increase organic plantings moving forward because of the increase in sales, although anticipating organic demand in two to three months during the COVID-19 era is risky for growers and shippers. 

Organic pantry staples, similar to organic cut vegetables, are particularly desirable to families focused on staying healthy during the pandemic. These staples, as one might expect, have increased in demand because they can be stored for months. Lundberg Family Farms is experiencing unprecedented sales of its organic rice and rice products. Rice is a “hoardable” staple, and demand for Lundberg packaged rice currently exceeds supply, so the company is planting more acreage to this year’s crop than ever before. 

The pandemic has brought in many new customers who tried Lundberg products because they were unable to obtain their usual brand of rice. Now they claim to be “customers for life,” according to Lundberg’s Organic and Quality Systems Manager Nickie Hughes (the CCOF Board of Directors representative for the Processor/Handler Chapter). Hughes noted, “Maybe consumers haven’t taken the plunge into organic until now, when they want to be healthy and it’s worth the extra dollar.”

While the pandemic has caused massive disruptions, one positive outcome is that more families realize the value of healthy, organic food.

“We Are Essential” is a blog series that explores how the organic community is navigating the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Our farms, ranches, and businesses deliver truly essential services, staying open and in the field to provide nutritious food to our communities. Each week, we will share a new story that highlights how organic is critical to the global response. We welcome hearing how you are impacted and invite you to email us at policy@ccof.orgWe also have a list of crisis resilience resources to help you weather the COVID-19 pandemic.