As Canada’s organic sector marks this year’s Organic Week, Canada’s largest annual celebration of organic food, farming and products, it sees many reasons for optimism.
The Canada Organic logo, introduced and regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, has been in place for just eight years, and Canadian consumers are steadily becoming more familiar with it and what it stands for.
A national survey conducted this year for the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) shows that seven in 10 Canadians have some familiarity with the logo, up from six in 10 in a comparable survey in 2016.
Consumers also understand more about what the logo signifies. Compared to a comparable survey last year, higher percentages of Canadians associate the logo with several key aspects of organic certification, including being pesticide-free, good for the environment, non-GMO and having strong standards.
The sector is also encouraged to see that as consumers learn more about Canadian organic certification, their trust in the logo rises, says Tia Loftsgard, executive director of COTA.
“More consumers today are asking, ‘Should I trust this ingredient list or the standards under which this food was produced?’ The percentage of Canadians who trust the logo is five points higher than in 2016.
“We are seeing that Canada Organic is certainly one of the trusted logos in the marketplace, and the level of trust is continuing to grow year after year.”
Along with trust, organic purchases are growing. Two in three Canadians (66 per cent) are spending at least some of their weekly grocery budget on organic items – up 10 percentage points from 2016.
“Another notable finding is the growing influence of health professionals on consumers’ decisions to buy organic products,” says Ms. Loftsgard. “More than half of Canadians, 55 per cent, now say their choices of organic products and brands are influenced by recommendations from a health professional – an 11-point increase over the past year.”
People have various health-related reasons for choosing organic products, she says, including food allergies or sensitivities that draw them to products with no artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners or preservatives – part of the organic standard.
Retailers are encouraged to see that organic products are moving beyond their early “niche” status and taking their place in the mainstream.
“Choosing organic is shifting away from being considered a trend – something that comes and goes after a season of being popular – and instead is becoming a long-lasting lifestyle change for those who want to take the next step in holistic health for themselves and their families,” says Helen Long, president of the Canadian Health Food Association.
As consumer demand for organic increases, Canada’s food producers, manufacturers and retailers are responding with more products and a greater variety of options, says Ms. Long.
“Only a few years ago, you probably wouldn’t have seen many food items labelled as organic at your neighbourhood store. Today though, you won’t know where to begin,” she says. “We can not only shop entire aisles of organic food, but entire stores, too. And this will only continue to grow thanks to the innovations of the Canadian market.”
Loblaw Companies Ltd. continues to see surging demand for organic products in a number of categories, and is steadily broadening options beyond fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat to include breads, plant proteins, pantry staples and frozen meals.
“Millennials (aged 18 to 34) continue to lead the way in organic purchasing, and as they now start families, they want to give their children organic, wholesome food. We have seen tremendous growth, for example, in our PC Organics baby food line,” says Kathlyne Ross, vice-president, product development and innovation for the company.
Loblaw plans to add 50 new organic products to its existing 250 in the next year, says Ms. Ross.
“We will continue to look at where the opportunity is – how we can give our growing base of organic consumers the newest and best products to meet their needs.”
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