Heat Up Organic Winter Veggie Sales

Demand for organic sweet potatoes is strong in the winter months, as consumers look for hearty, healthy options.

Despite inflation, organics continue to thrive.

Originally printed in the February 2024 issue of Produce Business.

Virtually all vegetables are available year-round in produce departments today, thanks to domestic production and imports. This is true, too, of organics. Yet in the winter and early spring, hearty organic vegetables are in greater demand.

“Consumer demand for organic veggies spikes immediately after the holidays, as many are looking for healthier options,” says Chris Harris, category director for produce at New Seasons Market, a 20-store chain headquartered in Portland, OR.

Eating more produce, including veggies, figures in New Year’s resolutions. One-third (34%) of U.S. adults planned to make resolutions or set goals for 2024, according to a YouGov poll conducted in December. The most common resolution is saving money, set by 23% of Americans, with eating healthier close behind at 20%.

The top organic vegetable sellers in the spring months are leaf vegetables, such as romaine, romaine hearts, and red and green leaf lettuce. The top organic vegetables in the winter are cauliflower, broccoli, celery and leeks.

The good news is that despite inflation, organics continue to thrive. Americans who say they purchase organic food “every chance I get” is up two percentage points in the last three years to 12%. Consumers who shop organic “when it’s convenient” is up two points to 21%, while those who “not often” shop organic has fallen to 41%, according to the report, Consumer Interest in Organic Food Remains Resilient, Amidst Rising Prices, released November 2023 by Pittsburgh, PA-based consumer analytics company, CivicScience.

The key to selling more hearty organic vegetables this time of year is “variety and consistency,” says Joe Eisinger, director of organic buying and sales for Nathel & Nathel, in Bronx, NY. “This is what our organic retail customers look for.”

Capitalizing on cold weather eating occasions and holidays is essential, too.


The availability of organic winter and spring vegetables can be a bit of a challenge, says New Seasons Market’s Harris. “While many of these vegetables are shipped from California during this time, cold snaps and other weather-related issues can affect the supply and consequently drive prices up. However, we strive to maintain good relationships with our local growers, who can provide us with crops like radicchio and chicories, which we’ve done well with this year.”

Late fall, winter, and early spring is California’s time to shine in terms of organic veg supply, when local deals across the U.S. are not in production, according to Michael Boskovich, who heads up organic sales for B Organic at Oxnard, CA-headquartered Boskovich Farms. “We send spinach and other leafy greens, among other items, to the U.S. East Coast and into Canada, cities such as Philadelphia and Montreal. Greens are continuing to see an uptick due to juicing.”

Boskovich says they are offering a new organic chard in green, red and rainbow, which pairs well with kales.


Organic greens like kales and lettuces dominate sales from February to April at New Seasons Market, says Harris. “Likely this is due to their alignment with health and wellness trends, as well as their status as staple ingredients in many diets.”

Other popular items for Boskovich Farms include organic green onions as soup ingredients and toppers. Supplies are usually strong from California, Boskovich says, but cold snaps may necessitate sourcing from Mexico in the winter. Brussels sprouts are still on trend and hot sellers, too.

“Top organic vegetables in the winter for us include cauliflower, broccoli, and celery, along with leeks,” says Kevin Crossgrove, organic sales manager for The Nunes Company Inc., in Salinas, CA, which markets its products under the Foxy Organic brand.

Broccoli and cauliflower are especially strong, adds Brian Peixoto, sales manager at Lakeside Organic Gardens, based in Watsonville, CA. “We’re in full swing from outside of Watsonville at the beginning of the year, then move over to Holtville the first of February.”

Carrots, potatoes, and onions are major winter vegetables customers purchase at Tops Friendly Markets, a 148-store chain headquartered in Williamsville, NY, with stores in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont. “These are pantry fillers. Customers like to buy them and stock up,” says Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral.

To display and highlight organic veggies during the winter and spring, make use of visible end caps and create signage that emphasizes the organic nature of this produce.

Cal-Organic Farms, a subsidiary of Bakersfield, CA-headquartered Grimmway Farms, offers an array of organic vegetables, from carrots to multiple varieties of kale year-round. In the winter, says David Bright, vice president of marketing, “our organic vegetable production in the California desert is complemented by farming of organic carrots and select varieties of organic vegetables in southern Georgia and Florida, to offer our southeastern customers locally grown products.”


Organic sweet potatoes are another hearty winter vegetable that’s also available 52 weeks a year.
“Although we do see heavy promotional opportunities in the fall and holiday months, the chance to sell and promote sweet potatoes does not stop in December,” says Brian Dey, senior merchandiser and natural foods coordinator for Four Seasons Produce, in Ephrata, PA.

“Demand is still strong in the winter months, as consumers will continue to look for hearty, healthy options to feed their families. As a nutritional powerhouse, organic sweet potatoes fit the bill and check every box.”

While not as colorful as some other commodities in the produce department, having big, attractive displays of organic sweet potatoes can be a showstopper-type display, says Dey.

“Organic sweet potatoes pair well with so many other produce items, like onions, mushrooms, herbs and even apples. The benefit is that sweet potatoes are a relatively low-risk commodity and can offer retailers opportunities for continued sales and profits without the worry of excessive shrink.”

The greatest growth has been in the Japanese sweet potato, according to Jeremy Fookes, director of sales for A.V. Thomas Produce Inc., in Atwater, CA. This variety also goes by the name batata, boniato, Oriental, sweet potato or Korean yam.

“Once considered ethnic, I think we’ve finally got the word out on the Japanese sweet potatoes to the point that retailers that didn’t carry them have now added them as a SKU,” says Fookes. “This white-fleshed variety offers a different culinary opportunity. It cooks well in soups and stews, akin to a russet potato.”

Variety-wise historically, the garnet and jewels are by far the most popular, adds Four Seasons’ Dey. “In addition to the Japanese sweet potato, we have also seen increased movement in purple sweet potatoes, as these add something different and unique for customers to try, and, quite honestly, look super cool on a retail display or on a consumer’s dinner plate.”

While bulk sweet potatoes drive the category, Dey adds, “value-added, in-store cut sweet potato chunks or even sweet potato fries add convenience and are making their way into category share.”


The top organic vegetable sellers in the spring months are leaf vegetables, such as romaine, romaine hearts, and red and green leaf lettuce, says The Nunes Company’s Crossgrove. “The consumer demand for these vegetables is related to the warmer temperatures during spring, and seasonal recipes that incorporate leafy vegetables for dishes such as salads.”

Cabbage kicks up sales come March, says Tops Friendly Market’s Cady. “We’ll feature both organic and conventional.”

Cabbage isn’t a big item in organic in general, adds Nathel & Nathel’s Eisinger, “but we do see a boost in March for St. Patrick’s Day.”

Organic cabbage, which started harvesting in mid-January, is a new item for Boskovich Farms.


To display and highlight organic veggies during the winter and spring, New Seasons Market’s Harris recommends using visible end caps and creating signage that emphasizes the organic nature and local sourcing of the produce when relevant.

“We might also use educational materials to inform customers about the benefits of eating organically and provide recipes that include these vegetables to inspire purchases.”

The winter and spring holidays can help promote the sales of organic vegetables, along with the increase in demand from seasonal recipes and changes in the weather, which can affect what people are eating, says The Nunes Company’s Crossgrove. “Retailers can capitalize on this through displays, merchandising and promotions.”

For Super Bowl promotions, “celery, carrots, and broccoli are all big as dippers, along with blue cheese dressing,” says Tops Friendly Market’s Cady.

Special to the winter season, adds Grimmway Farms’ Bright, “our organic red carrots are a perfect addition to a romantic dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day. March brings St. Patrick’s Day and that presents opportunities to spotlight organic carrots, cabbage, potatoes, and onions merchandised near the corned beef to help shoppers create the centerpiece for the celebration.”