As the nation grappled with the aftermath of the Great Recession officially ending in June 2009, certain sectors felt the impact more profoundly than others. The construction industry faced a 6.7 percent decline in authorized building permits in August 2010 compared to the previous year, revealing a stark contrast to the declared economic recovery. Consumer sentiment also reflected the ongoing challenges, with the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index noting a decline in September 2010.
However, amidst this economic turbulence, the sustainable agriculture sector emerged as a beacon of resilience. Despite organic fruit and vegetable prices often reaching double those of conventional produce, the core organic shopper demonstrated unwavering support, according to insights from Tilth Producers of Washington. Nationally, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) reported a 5.3 percent overall growth in sales of organic products in 2009, reaching a substantial $26.6 billion.
While this growth represented a slowdown compared to the 17.1 percent surge in U.S. sales of organic products in 2007, the sustained upward trajectory is notable, especially considering the economic challenges facing the country.
Staying Power in Challenging Times
“Stores that sell natural food are mostly doing fine in this market,” states Diane Dempster, President of Washington Tilth Producers and organic produce buyer for Seattle-based Charlie’s Produce. She emphasizes that businesses focused on natural and organic offerings have remained resilient, navigating economic uncertainties successfully.
One key factor contributing to the sector’s strength during economic downturns is the shift in consumer behavior. Increased interest in health and wellness products, coupled with a reduction in travel and entertainment expenditures, has bolstered the sustainable food industry. Jaret Foster, Senior Market Manager for Portland Farmers Market, observes, “I think people are traveling less and spending their entertainment dollars closer to home.” This change in spending patterns has benefited businesses in the natural foods space.
Connecting with Consumer Values
The sustainable food industry’s ability to engage consumers goes beyond economic factors. Samantha Cabaluna, Director of Communications for Earthbound Farm based in California, notes, “Underlying this interest in organic is a growing concern in the country for how our food is produced and who’s producing it.” This sentiment has driven consumer choices, contributing to Earthbound Farm’s projected 10 percent revenue growth in 2010, particularly in packaged organic salad sales.
In Washington, Charlie’s Produce, a privately-owned company, echoes a similar narrative. While the growth rate may have plateaued over the last couple of years, the consistent year-to-year sales underscore the enduring appeal of sustainable and locally sourced products. Diane Dempster highlights the importance of the narrative behind the products, stating, “Everyone is interested in buying local. It’s both the story and the connection and knowing whether it is organic or not.”
A Steadfast Commitment to Sustainable Values
As the sustainable agriculture sector continues to weather economic challenges, its resilience stands as a testament to the enduring appeal of organic and environmentally conscious choices. In times of uncertainty, consumers are increasingly turning to products that align with their values, making sustainable agriculture a stronghold in the broader economic landscape.
For more insights into sustainable practices and environmentally conscious choices, explore CommonShare.