Appetite for organic food continues to grow: Research

Spending on organic food climbs to $6.9 billion as Canadians focus on health


The hunger for organic food continues to grow.

New research from Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) shows that organic products sold in Canada now account for 3.2% of all grocery sales. Consumers are spending $6.9 billion annually on organic products, up from $5.4 billion (or 2.6% of all grocery sales) in 2017.  

In August, COTA commissioned Leger 360 to poll 1,000 consumers nationally to gauge the appetite for organic food. 

The survey found that the younger generation is the largest consumer group for organics, and spending declines with every age group. For centennials or gen Z (18-24), organic products comprise 46% of their weekly grocery purchases. That’s followed by millennials 25-34 (32% of weekly purchases); the 35-44 cohort (25%); gen Xers 45-55 (20%); baby boomers 55-74 (15%) and seniors 75+ (10%). 

Tia Loftsgard, executive director of COTA, says the research shows consumers are making choices that align with their health priorities and values, including avoiding exposure to pesticides and supporting higher animal welfare standards. 

In addition, during the global pandemic, she says, “people are trying to make sure they have strong immune systems and are feeding their bodies well during this time where health is such a priority.” 

Of those who buy organic groceries, fruits and vegetables are purchased most often—78% of respondents say they usually buy organic fruits and vegetables. 

Nearly a third (32%) buy organic meat and poultry, up from 26% in 2016—the largest increase of any product category. “The standards for organic meat are quite strict, not only just from the way [the animals] are raised, but the way they’re slaughtered and the fact that everything is extremely traceable,” says Loftsgard.

The survey also found that more than half of Canadians (55%) say they trust products with the Canada Organic Certified logo (regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency), up from 39% in 2016.

When it comes to purchase locations, 82% of Canadians who buy organic food do so at regular grocery stores, up from 75% in 2016. Forty-five per cent shop for organics at mass retailers such as Walmart and Costco, up from 39% in 2016. One-quarter (25%) say they purchase organics from natural health stores, up slightly from 24% in 2016. In Quebec, 39% of organic shoppers say they buy from natural health stores.

For retailers, Loftsgard stresses the importance of proper in-store merchandising. “Certain retailers take it quite seriously to make sure there is no confusion between what is organic versus other claims such as natural or grass-fed,” she says. “If [retailers] are going to merchandise, they should do it well and make sure there is no question mark around what is organic or not.”