Organic Produce Imports Keep US Market Competitive

Organic produce imports keep the U.S. domestic market competitive since there is sometimes an overlap of growing seasons.

 More organic offerings mean a better experience for the consumer. 


As organics have become more mainstream and abundant, organic produce imports fill the gap between U.S. growing seasons and countries with opposite production periods. This gives consumers year-round choices in fruits and vegetables, a trend customers now expect. 

“Imports are complementary with the U.S. growing season because countries in the Southern Hemisphere have an opposite season,” says Chris Ford, business development and marketing manager, Viva Tierra Organic Inc., a Mount Vernon, WA, company that deals in organic apples and pears, as well as organic ginger from Peru and organic kiwi from Europe and more.

“Our goal is to provide year-round consistent supply. We follow the seasons and focus on flavor.”  

Dovex, in Wenatchee, WA, supplies the U.S. market with organic berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. “Our season is October through June, which is the opposite of domestically grown organic berries,” says Bob Haarhues, director of national sales.

“We import from Mexico and Argentina, where our peak harvest is November and December. But we also deal in organic lemons year-round, with a strong retail demand from March through October. Our organic vegetable products peak in the cooler fall and winter months, which fills U.S. demand, but our organic garlic is year-round from Argentina and Mexico.” 


Organic produce imports also keep the U.S. domestic market competitive since there is sometimes an overlap of growing seasons.

“We experience overlap at the beginning and end of a season,” says Maria Brous, director of communications, Publix Supermarkets Inc., Lakeland, FL. “For example, if the growing season is in Peru, it will then migrate into Mexico, then California, etc.” 

“Today, customers are looking for an assortment of organic products on a year-round basis,” says Brous. “Organic imports allow us the opportunity to provide our customers with the variety they desire 12 months of the year.”  

“Organic imports allow us the opportunity to provide our customers with the variety they desire 12 months of the year.”

– Maria Brous, Publix Supermarkets, Lakeland, FL

This season, Washington state has a large organic crop of apples, according to Ford. “And cold storage technology has advanced greatly, meaning that Washington growers are able to pick, pack and store their fruits year-round.”

Ford says Viva Tierra Organic also imports organic apples from Chile, Argentina and New Zealand. “These multiple geographies allow us to be nimble and strategic about the varieties and timing of imports from other countries versus what is grown here. Imported organic apples were once a stand-alone crop, but a lot has changed in the last decade, so that’s no longer true.” 

Ford believes more offerings mean a better experience for the consumer. “Organic produce imports allow you to have consistent, high-quality, year-round products and, therefore, provide shelf space stability and quality,” he says. “This means that organics play an important role in the produce department.”


New technologies also offer consistency in organic produce products. “Competitive pricing, combined with advances in growing operations, provide consistent flavor profiles,” says Haarhues, of Dovex. “This gives consumers confidence when purchasing because they know what they are buying in terms of taste and quality.”

Ford agrees. “Viva Tierra was the first to import organic produce into North America 30 years ago, together with Agro Roca in Argentina. At first, retailers were not consistent in what they carried. But today, organic fruits and vegetables are a mainstay at retail stores, and the consumer has come to expect consistency, quality, variety and choices.”


One of the challenges facing retailers is increasing production costs and how that can affect consumer buying.

“Farming and production costs have skyrocketed, both domestically and internationally,” says Haarhues. “On the other hand, Mexico’s growing operations have become state-of-the-art, providing amazing quality at competitive pricing. Therefore, both marketing opportunities and challenges have to do with educating the consumer on the benefits of buying organic.”

“The best way to push organic produce is to tell a story about any new imports in the store,” says Ford. “Costs are going up worldwide, but whether you import internationally or buy domestically, there is competition.”

Ford recommends retailers promote organics with signage that educates customers on where it is grown, how it is beneficial to health, and so on. And lowering costs isn’t the only way to move organic produce. “Seasonal end caps, sampling and large displays are additional ways that retailers can drive consumption without reducing pricing.”

One of the challenges facing importers and retailers is that most worldwide produce is grown in underdeveloped countries, where labor costs are lower, while domestic organic produce growers face required increases in pay and benefits.

In the U.S., there are also water shortages, lack of workers, inflation, high property values and high property taxes, says Haarhues.

“Retailers should look for global opportunities in order to be more competitive, rather than focusing only on domestic organic produce. In addition, retailers and wholesalers should educate their customers about their organic import products and let those consumers know that they are providing them with the best possible produce in the world.”

“We believe in listening to the growers,” says Brous of Publix. “We’re eating our way through the seasons and are looking to offer our customers the best quality and overall value on a year-basis, while providing a large variety of organic produce, both from our domestic and our international importers.

Some retailers that have been successful in moving organic produce imports include Whole Foods and Sprouts, two companies that were founded on organics. But most retail stores now offer a wide organic variety in their produce departments. This is because organic produce, once expensive, is now more affordable and more abundant.

“You can find organic produce at practically every retailer now, so that has really helped scale up the industry, making organic produce some of the best value one can find,” says Ford.


The trend to expose retailers as well as their customers to more variety, including some produce that is unfamiliar, but tasty, is predicted to increase. Consistency in supplies and flavor is always key, but improved logistics, improved cold chain, and advances in harvest and inventory management aid in the ever-increasing popularity of organic produce imports.

“There will continue to be more organic supplies for items that haven’t been consistently offered year-round but now are, thanks to imports,” says Ford of Viva Tierra. “And items such as stone fruit or citrus or kiwi are opportunities outside the mainstream for retailers to give their consumers more choices.

“More choices mean more profits for retailers while driving higher consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables with consumers.”