All about organics at SIAL Canada

Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association, talks about new opportunities in organics
Tia Loftsgard

Check out Canada’s largest food and beverage show, SIAL Canada, running May 2–4 at Toronto’s Enercare Centre. Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA), will be sharing insights on how the organics consumer is changing and what’s next for the category. In advance of the show, we chatted with Loftsgard about the biggest organic trends and product offerings.

How is COTA participating at SIAL Canada this year?
The Canada Organic Trade Association will be hosting an organic pavilion with several industry members, including Yorkshire Valley Farms, the largest organic chicken supplier in Canada; Pro-Cert Organic, which is a certification body; New World Foods; and Canadian Edamame Company, among others. We also have two speaking opportunities. On May 2, I’ll be leading a session on today’s organic consumer, featuring updated consumer research we did with Ipsos in 2016. On May 3, I’ll be on a panel discussion along with Rita Felder, CEO of Field to Farms Marketing, and Peter Hall, vice-president and chief economist at Export Development Canada. We’ll be talking about organic export markets and opportunities that we see emerging. I’m also participating in SIAL’s experts’ hub as the organic expert, and I’ll be available to answer questions.

What are the biggest trends in the organic market today?
The top-selling products have always been vegetables and fruits but, as the industry evolves, we’re starting to have more product offerings. We’re seeing a lot more snack foods coming to market and new product categories that are more processed foods. Farmers are seeing opportunities with brands that are fulfilling demand from consumers. Value-added processing is a big growth category right now, where consumers are going beyond the essential staples.

Who is today’s typical organic consumer?
We used to think the typical organic consumer was mostly someone with money. That is not at all the case now. People are buying according to their values and income is not a factor. Millennials are a major driver with regards to wanting products they can trust from brands that are certified and that have some indication of sustainability. Families are interested in feeding organic foods to their kids but that’s been happening for a while. The millennial generation is now a driving factor.

What’s driving the interest and growth in organics?
People certainly want to know where their food comes from, so it’s the whole idea of transparency around their food and food systems. In our research, consumers are saying they’re choosing organic because they want “free from” products, whether it’s free from pesticides or GMOs. Another major driver is that Canadians care about the environment and organic has a lot of redeeming benefits in regards to soil and water conservation and soil health. In our study, we asked, “Even if prices increase for organic, will you continue to purchase the same amount, or increase your spend in the next year?” And 80% of respondents said they would continue to maintain or spend more on organic.

Obviously, what’s driving organics now is that retailers are seeing the demand from consumers, so they’re bringing more products to market. Most of the large retail stores have their own private label organic brands and organic sections, so availability is driving continued growth.

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