Sluggish progress in natural meals gross sales as pandemic fades


After surging almost 13% through the eat-at-home early days of the pandemic, gross sales of natural meals rose by lower than 2% in 2021, as People deserted pantry loading, stated the Natural Commerce Affiliation (OTA) on Thursday. Gross sales of natural meals totaled $57.5 billion final yr, a $1 billion enhance from 2020.

It was the slowest progress charge in additional than a decade for natural, ordinarily some of the dynamic segments of the meals sector. The pandemic upended the meals trade in 2020, driving customers to the grocery retailer whereas shutting down eating places and colleges. Customers combated shortages by shopping for further meals after they might. There was a increase in house baking.

“Like each different trade, natural has been via many twists and turns over the previous couple of years, however the trade’s resilience and creativity has saved us going sturdy,” stated OTA chief government Tom Chapman. “When pandemic buying habits and provide shortages started to ease in 2021, we noticed the strongest efficiency from classes that had been in a position to stay versatile, regardless of the shifting panorama.”

In releasing its annual report on the natural trade, the OTA stated that in 2021, consumers — as a substitute of hoarding meals as they’d through the pandemic — returned to the acquainted routine of shopping for meals as they wanted it. Meals gross sales elevated 1.8% from 2020, and nonfood gross sales had been up 7%.

Vegatables and fruits, the biggest sector for natural meals, notched gross sales of $21 billion, up 4.5%. Contemporary produce gross sales surged 6%, and dried beans, fruits, and greens rose 6.5%. General, 15% of U.S. fruit and vegetable gross sales final yr had been natural, stated the OTA.

Processors are placing extra packaging on natural produce as a result of some consumers imagine it reduces the danger that there’s coronavirus on their purchases. “It’s but unclear if this pattern will proceed, nevertheless, as natural meals consumers traditionally have most well-liked much less packaging and plastic use,” stated the OTA.

After hovering in 2020, gross sales of natural dairy and eggs retreated in 2021, as provide scares turned much less frequent, stated the commerce group. Tight provides of natural feed contributed to increased costs and decrease whole gross sales, it stated, though gross sales had been nonetheless 11% bigger than in 2019.

Gross sales of natural meat rose 2.5%, to just about $2 billion. Natural poultry was the highest performer within the class, up 4.7%, to greater than $1 billion.

Gross sales of packaged and ready meals dropped 5%, “representing a shift away from pantry loading and towards extra measured buying patterns,” stated the OTA. Canned soups, nut butters, and pasta sauce, which rode the escalator of shopper demand in 2020, noticed the biggest decreases in 2021. Nevertheless, child meals gross sales had been up 11%, to $1.2 billion.

Snack gross sales, which fell in 2020, rebounded in 2021 as workplaces, colleges, and shops reopened. Espresso gross sales additionally boomed, rising greater than 5% “as People more and more transitioned into hybrid and work-from-home fashions.”

With $2.3 billion in gross sales, textiles generated 40% of income for nonfood natural merchandise, a class that additionally consists of dietary dietary supplements and private care merchandise.

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