CCOF and CalCAN hosted a virtual briefing for California state legislators and agency officials to learn about current opportunities in California’s organic marketplace. This briefing provided context for CCOF-sponsored AB 2499 (Maienschein), which creates an Organic Transition Program to provide underserved farmers with financial and technical assistance to transition to organic and requires a statewide market analysis of the organic sector.
We heard from four experts during the briefing:
- Ernesto Soto, grower liaison at Coke Farms, explained how organic is an important strategy for farmers to grow their businesses. Coke Farms aggregates and markets products from small, mainly Latinx organic farmers who often face challenges accessing the marketplace. Growing consumer demand for organic has allowed Coke Farms to grow from a handful of farmers in 2005 to over ninety today and their doors are still open to new organic growers searching for market opportunities.
- Jonathan Kitchens, purchasing manager at Earl’s Organic Produce, talked about opportunities for California farmers to meet the increasing demand for organic in grocery stores. Earl’s, which has sold wholesale produce for the past 34 years, recently underwent a major expansion to meet the rapid rise in demand for organic by retailers across the state. Conventional retailers who historically did not sell large amounts of organic are now rapidly scaling up their organic selection while small retailers are expanding into new locations. Kitchens also noted that younger consumers shopping at Latinx and Asian markets are looking for certified organic cultural crops like bok choy, epazote, and yucca root, which provides a great opportunity for California farmers seeking to enter the organic marketplace.
- Kristin Keisel, associate professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis, shared research findings showing that Californians are increasingly making values-based food choices and are willing to pay a premium for local, organic foods. California’s consumers have higher recognition of the organic seal than other labels and understand “local” to mean food that is grown on small, organic farms and that is of high quality. Keisel sees the growth in values-based purchasing as an opportunity for producers to differentiate their products through organic certification and messaging that speaks to the added value of local organic farming.
- Megan DeBates, vice president of government affairs at the Organic Trade Association (OTA), highlighted opportunities for California farmers to meet growing consumer demand for organic. On average, the organic market has grown 4 to 6 percent per year in comparison to the conventional market which has grown 2 to 3 percent per year. During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organic market experienced record annual growth of over 12 percent. This was attributed to families spending more of their food budgets at the grocery store, where organic products are mostly sold, rather than at restaurants or institutions, where the market for organic is relatively undeveloped. DeBates emphasized strong growth in sales of processed products, which provides important opportunities for California farmers to sell their crops to organic food manufacturers. The California Department of Public Health reports that sales of organic processed products more than doubled between 2020 and 2021, from $14.8 billion to $34.5 billion.
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