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A Closer Look

The Long Tail of the Pandemic Buying Surge

For the latest edition of the Organic Market Basket, we’re looking at the 13-week period ending just after Thanksgiving 2021.

The major factor in evidence in this basket is that sales of pantry staples and longer storing perishables (such as carrots and frozen peas) are down significantly from their pandemic boom days of a year prior.

It’s tempting to look at all the red spilled on this data table and worry for the long-term prospects of center store grocery. Instead, it’s important to contextualize the figures and then look to the future.

First, for context: it is tough to overstate the level to which shoppers loaded in on organic food in 2020. The economic shift from services to goods (i.e. restaurants to groceries) was truly off the charts, and when we compare figures year over year, it’s easy to see why moderate growth gets lost in the numbers. Bottom line: when you average these categories out to include 2019, 2020 and 2021, you see most of them are humming along, with overall basket averages growth of 10% in dollars and 8% in units.

Now for a look to the future, where there’s plenty of room for optimism. A walk through center store shows that many of the staple categories that excelled in 2020 reinvested those gains, revitalizing some formerly sleepy product groups. The result is a crop of refreshed takes on old favorites, including packaging and ingredient upgrades. Additionally, many of the major nutritional paradigms of the past few years—plant-based, keto, paleo, grain- and gluten-free—took a while to present themselves in certified organic form. This, too, is shifting, and increasingly shoppers can have all their desired nutritional attributes along with the assurance of a certified organic product.

For years, innovation and marketing investments had been directed away from center store, and toward fresh refrigerated products. Now we see the tide turning toward rebuilding the other side of the business.

As a reminder, the Organic Market Basket is a periodic look at a basket of 20 organic grocery items. The snapshot reports volume and average retail price changes for a range of items which, taken together, are broadly representative of U.S. organic food sales. It is produced in partnership with long-time member company SPINS.

Angela Jagiello is the Director of Education & Insights for the Organic Trade Association.

Organic Market Basket reports volume and average retail price changes for the range of items which, taken together, are broadly representative of U.S. organic food sales.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 Organic Report, you can view the full magazine here.