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Keeping the Faith

What will the economy do to organic sales? That’s a question I’ve been seeing a lot lately. According to recent data from Nielsen, the answer so far is: Not much. Organic dairy sales over the past year are up 20%, organic dry grocery sales are up by 29%, and organic produce has seen a 27% increase.

The economy’s downward spiral has yet to hit bottom, it seems, so there’s no telling where things will end up. That’s why health and wellness managers need to focus on more than just organics if they want to weather the hard times still to come.

Luckily, the opportunities are abundant. The market for local products, for example, is looking better and better these days. A just-released study from Ohio State University shows that the average consumer is willing to pay more for locally produced food than the conventional alternative. Retail shoppers will pay $0.48 more for a $3 quart of local strawberries, while those who frequent farmers markets will pay an additional $0.92, researchers found. Asked to choose between berries from “Fred’s” and “Berries Inc.” (both fictional companies), retail shoppers said they would pay $0.17 more for Fred’s, the smaller operation.

There’s also an ever-increasing market for special-needs diets. Packaged Facts projects that products related to food allergies and intolerances will reach $3.9 billion in sales this year. Nationally, there are around 12 million people with food allergies and 2 million with celiac disease. For reasons the medical community isn’t quite sure of, these numbers are growing.

Retailers also shouldn’t forget about natural and other middle-ground selections, which appeal to consumers who might eat with health and ethics in mind, but don’t want to pay the premium price.

The food industry knows better than to just sit back and cross its fingers, of course. All the talk right now is about consumers trading down, making fewer shopping trips, and making health and wellness less of a priority. It’s easy to lose confidence in the healthful side of the business.

Retailers: Don’t buy into it. The game plan may have changed, but people’s desire to live smart and eat smart hasn’t.