The stereotypical organic consumer doesn’t exist anymore

Alberta has the highest proportion of organic consumers of any province in the country

The growing availability of organic food in grocery story chains is a key factor in driving sales.
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If newspaper headlines are to be believed, millennials have already killed the paper napkin industry, department stores, and beer (somehow).

Could conventional agriculture be next?

Nah. All the generations are working on that one, says an organic industry official.

Tia Loftsgard. photo: File

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a millennial, Gen X, or baby boomer — across the board, organics is going up,” said Tia Loftsgard, chief executive officer of the Canada Organic Trade Association.

“You cannot dispel the fact that this is a sector that’s growing.”

The organization annually surveys consumers to gauge how many are buying on a weekly basis.

In 2017, it found 83 per cent of millennials were regularly buying organic food (up from 80 per cent a year earlier), with generation X shoppers in second spot at 62 per cent (versus 58 per cent a year earlier). But baby boomers are coming on fast — with 56 per cent saying they buy some organic food on a weekly basis (versus 47 per cent a year earlier).

Millennials are not only persuading their parents (or grandparents) of the merits of organic food but are also holding fast themselves. The theory was that millennials could afford to indulge in “expensive organics” because they were living rent free at home.

But now they’re getting jobs and moving out on their own — and they’re still buying organics, Loftsgard said at the recent Organic Alberta conference.

Price is a factor, but not the barrier many expected.

“I think it’s really interesting to see that a family earning over $100,000 in income is purchasing at the same frequency as those under $40,000,” she said.

“This whole idea that if you don’t have money, you don’t buy organic is false. They do buy some organic.

“They’re just finding ways to make it affordable to buy because their values are what’s driving their purchases.”

This shift toward values-based purchasing is only going to continue to grow, she added. Consumers buying organics are doing so because they want to avoid highly processed foods (49 per cent cite that as a reason), as well as shunning foods that contain GMOs (37 per cent) and grown with applied chemicals (46 per cent). Organic shoppers also regularly say they believe organic is better for the environment.

“Public trust is a big discussion in Canadian agriculture right now,” said Loftsgard. “That’s really what’s going to drive the next generation of purchasers.”

She offered one more unexpected statistic for her audience of organic producers and other industry players: 74 per cent of Albertans buy organic food — tops in the nation.

“Alberta is leading the charge,” said Loftsgard. “I was shocked to see that. I always thought it was more British Columbia.”

Overall, 66 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they buy organic food on a weekly basis (up from 56 per cent in 2016).

A key driver of that increase comes down to availability.

Gone are the days when consumers had to go to natural health food stores to purchase organics. Now only one in four buyers does. Most get their organic food from regular grocery stores — which sold 80 per cent of the organics bought last year. This has resulted in $4.2 billion in organic food and drink purchases, an 8.4 per cent growth rate since 2012.

Produce is the top seller but demand for meat from animals only given organic feed is rising quickly and 80 per cent of consumers are interested in buying meat bearing a certified organic label.

“Alberta livestock producers, help us out here,” Loftsgard said to her audience.

The only way to do that across all organic sectors is by increasing the number of producers, she added. Right now, only 2.2 per cent of Canadian farms are certified organic, but that number is growing every year — particularly in Alberta, which has 413 certified organic operations and 426,000 acres of cropland that are certified organic.

“The more that it’s accessible and available, the more they’re going to continue to buy it,” said Loftsgard. “We want to make sure that organic food is available to everybody.”

About the author


Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.



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