Just how much organic food is out there? While it may seem like the organic food industry is a quiet little subset of your local produce seller, or the pricey stuff at Whole Foods, how’s this for sticker shock: Costco sells more organic food than Whole Foods.
That’s the news according to Costco’s chief financial officer Richard Galanti, who estimated on a recent earnings call that the retail giant has sold at least $4 billion so far this year just from organic food. That rings in slightly higher than Whole Foods, which reported earnings of $3.6 billion.
BMO Capital Markets analyst Kelly Bania told the Huffington Post that Costco is “possibly now already eclipsing” Whole Foods, which has long been considered the organic market leader.
“[Costco is] pretty good at getting out there and working with suppliers, both here and around the world to commit more to [organic], whether it is raising eggs or ground beef processing or produce,” Galanti said on the call.
What this news means, and why it matters is significant. A Whole Foods customer, for example, is typically seeking out healthier options just by choosing to shop at the pricey retailer nicknamed “Whole Paycheck.” But a Costco shopper is typically shopping for the opposite reason: the lowest possible price. Costco’s bulk-buying model makes it a destination for large families and anyone seeking to save money buy making large purchases up front. But when the economy shopper finds healthier options at Costco, such as organic foods produced without chemicals or pesticides, there seems to be much more of an interest in the organic option than these shoppers have been given credit for–even if that organic option is slightly more expensive than the conventional items at Costco.
While Whole Foods may still set the organic food trends, consumers are taking notice—wherever the organic options are available–and that’s not only good news for the health of the shopper, but it’s also good news for the farmers, who make larger profits off of organic foods, and the environment, which is protected against the chemical-intensive farming practices of conventional agriculture.
According to Vox, the USDA’s most recent Census of Agriculture found that “total organic sales for farms grew more than 60 percent in just five years, translating into big profits for farms that focus on growing organic crops.”
Other big box retailers including Target and Walmart have begun to put more emphasis on organic and natural foods with cleaner ingredients. And the restaurant industry is following suit as well.
Wendy’s recently added an organic iced tea option to its permanent menu, Chipotle Mexican Grill now boasts being 100 percent GMO-free, and other chains continue to drop artificial ingredients and antibiotics (in animal products), while adding healthier and cleaner items to their menus.
Likewise the conventional food industry is also seeing major shifts towards healthier options. Nestlé USA just announced it is pulling artificial ingredients and reducing sodium in more than 250 frozen products. This news comes just a few months after announcing a similar move to its chocolate and confectionary line. Kraft Foods finally replaced the artificial colors found in its iconic blue box macaroni and cheese product after using natural alternatives throughout Europe for years.