Data released by the Organic Trade Association (OTA)indicates that U.S. sales of organic products continued to grow during 2009 despite the distressed state of the economy. What's more, organic product sales in 2009 grew by 5.3% overall, reaching $26.6 billion. Of that figure, $24.8 billion represented organic food, while the remaining $1.8 billion stemmed from sales of organic non-foods.

“While total U.S. food sales grew by only 1.6% in 2009, organic food sales grew by 5.1 percent,” says Christine Bushway, executive director at OTA. “Meanwhile, organic non-food sales grew by 9.1%, as opposed to total non-food sales which had a -1% sales growth rate. These findings are indicative that even in tough times, consumers understand the benefits that organic products offer and will make other cuts before they give up products they value.”

Organic fruits and vegetables, which represent 38% of total organic food sales, experienced the most significant growth and reached nearly $9.5 billion in sales in 2009, up 11.4% from 2008 sales. OTA’s report points out that organic fruits and vegetables now represent 11.4% of all U.S. fruit and vegetable sales.

Since 2000, sales of organic fruits and vegetables have grown from $2.55 billion, representing approximately 3% of all fruit and vegetable sales, to nearly $9.5 billion and an 11.4% penetration level. In that same period, organic food sales have grown from $6.1 billion to $24.8 billion in 2009, jumping from 1.2% of all U.S. food sales to 3.7%.

The OTA found the mass market channel captured the majority of organic food sales in 2009, with 54% of organic sold through mainstream grocers, club stores and retailers. Natural retailers were next, with 38% of total organic food sales. Although still representing a small percentage of sales, farmers’ markets, co-ops and CSA (community-supported agriculture) operations gained a lot of interest as consumers increasingly look for locally and regionally produced organic foods.

In the organic non-food sector, organic supplements led, represented by $634 million in sales and 35% of total organic non-food sales. Organic supplement sales ticked 12% higher than in 2008. Organic fiber (linen and clothing) totaled $521 million in sales, up 10.4%, while personal care products, at $459 million, increased 3.7% from 2008 sales.