The organic food industry has grown rapidly in recent years and the growth trajectory continues to rise, as organic ingredients begin to find a place in the broader feel-good food trend. The industry has recently reached $50 billion dollars in annual total organic product sales and is predicted to continue growing rapidly, with average growth in the double digits for the past five years, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2017 Organic Industry Survey. The value of the organic industry will likely continue to thrive as more restaurants begin to access its previously untapped potential.
The D.C. metro area is a hub for innovative restaurant operators who have already capitalized on this surge of interest in organic ingredients, with local favorites Sweetgreen and Founding Farmers emphasizing the role of organic and responsibly-sourced ingredients in their strategies for success. Nationally, Panera Bread is also beginning to expand its use use of organic ingredients, having previously achieved a 100-percent clean ingredient menu. The move toward organic ingredients has mirrored the market trend toward healthier food.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2017 State of the Industry Report, Seven out of 10 consumers now say that the real or perceived healthiness of the menu is enough for them to make them choose one restaurant over another. The explosive growth in organic foods in the last few years mirrors this growth in the interest of healthier restaurant options, and the feel-good food trend doesn’t stop here. As
this movement continues to grow in popularity with consumers, and restaurants continue to accommodate this change, the role of organic products will continue to grow as well.
The feel-good food trend reflects consumer beliefs about what is or isn’t healthy, and the way that restaurant operators anticipate and respond to those beliefs. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2018 Culinary Forecast, restaurant operators rated locally sourced ingredients, organic ingredients, and clean-label menus as equally important in appealing to customers.
Because of the success restaurant operators have had in these other categories, they are now turning to organic ingredients to gain even more from the feel-good food trend.
Both Sweetgreen and Founding Farmers make use of as many organic ingredients as possible, while also emphasizing that ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible. Neither business is able to use 100-percent organic or locally-sourced ingredients; according to a statement on Founding Farmers’ website, “The ‘as much as possible’ prefix is important; we want to provide transparency, and acknowledging that it isn’t feasible to promise we know the source of every morsel is important.”
When restaurant operators utilize organic ingredients in addition to local sources and clean-label foods, they have the best chance of appealing to a broad range of health oriented consumers. While no major local or national restaurant chain will achieve a menu that is entirely certified organic, Panera Bread, Founding Farmers, and Sweetgreen have all begun to incorporate organic ingredients in various degrees, in order to
tap into the benefits of this rapidly developing market segment.
The fast-casual segment has been the industry leader in sales growth for several years, according to research firm Technomic, and continues to grow rapidly. Some of the menu advances there reflect the acceptance and desire of the consumer for better food. The peppering of organic ingredients on the menu is a way to benefit from its “better-for-you” perception. Sweetgreen’s winter bowls and warm bowls, for example, include organic ingredients without being entirely organic. The Curry ChickPea, Shroomami and Harvest Bowl all contain organic ingredients.
Photo credit: J. Watters