At the United Fresh session, “Organic Produce – What’s Driving This Growing Sector,” Bob Lummis, sales/merchandising manager with Crosset Wholesale reminisced about the earlier uses of kale.

“I’m going to go back in time a bit, but I remember when kale was sold with cooking greens, mustard greens, collard greens and turnip greens,” he told the crowd at the United Fresh convention in Chicago. “I remember kale garnished a lot of salad bars. Today, it’s number eight on the (most sold) organic lists.”

Kale and other organic crops were the focus in the discussion panel with Lummis, Bob Borda, VP organic sales for Cal Organic Farms and Frank Padilla, Vice President, general merchandise Manager Produce and Meat, Costco Wholesale. With 84 percent of U.S. consumers purchasing organic foods, the three executives offered their thoughts on the subject.

Costco, the top organic retailer in the tune of $3.6 billion, has made organic produce a growing factor in its sales mix. “Not a bad thing to be number one,” Padilla joked. “There is something there and we are pursuing it.”

Padilla said the challenge lies in the fact that Costco is an “item” business, thus they are selective in what they carry. “We don’t have an ‘organic’ section—not in food, not in produce,” he said. “We have 100 SKUs that we can sell, not at one time or one place, but our buyers are looking for that to complement our mix.”

“The danger is that it could be the only choice. If you don’t have the right quality, the right specifications, the right shelf life and value, you are going to turn the non-organic consumers off,” Padilla continued. “We also face the danger that if it’s not available at the time, you may not have that item to sell.”

Borda, whose products under Cal Organic are continuing to grow in the U.S., told the audience as more consumers enter the market, the more his company will expand. “Retailers should know that fresh is the gateway to organics,” he said.

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