“Canadian consumers are certainly shopping based on their values and choosing products that resonate with what organic delivers,” says Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association. She notes that organic sales in Canada across all product categories “have increased 8% over last year and continue to grow beyond capacity.”
Millennials continue to be the most influential generation in terms of purchasing and demanding organic from the food industry, she says, adding that more than two-thirds of Canadians purchase organic products weekly. “The snacks category, gluten free, alternative dairy and sweetener categories have increased dramatically, with more manufacturers adding organic alternatives to their product offerings,” says Loftsgard.
“From what consumers are telling us, it’s a good news story for organics,” says Joel Gregoire, associate director of food & drink at Mintel. Canadians generally associate organic products with health, “natural” and “free from” claims, he says. “In addition, we found that the statement people are most likely to agree with, with respect to organic and natural claims, is that they are safer.”
According to Euromonitor International’s 2019 Health and Nutrition Survey of 20 worldwide markets, the top five reasons consumers choose organics are: they are better for me (57.6%); they make me feel better (52%); food safety concerns (50.1%); digestive health (49.1%); and environmental concerns (45.8%).
“A primary driver is the avoidance of harmful synthetic pesticides and herbicides,” says Maureen Kirkpatrick, quality and standards program manager for the Big Carrot Community Market in Toronto. “People increasingly see organic agriculture as a refuge. The desire for transparency is also a factor—people want more transparency in their food system.”
Stan Smith, co-founder, co-owner and president of Abbotsford, B.C.-based Silver Hills Bakery, agrees. “Growing consumer awareness and interest in cleaner and transparent labels is certainly helping to drive demand for the organic food and beverage industry as a whole.”
According to Gregoire, fresh fruit and vegetables are still the top-selling organic food and beverage items, followed by meat. At the Big Carrot, several grocery categories are now almost entirely organic, including produce, bulk, baby food and coffee. Kirkpatrick says organic dairy is a huge seller, while in the centre aisles canned beans and tomatoes, pasta and cereals are all strong performers.
In terms of dairy, says Loftsgard, “the organic cheese and dairy market is growing in sales across all product categories … Dairy is frequently the product category where consumers convert [to organic] first, particularly once they have children.”