New Studies Describe Ontario’s Resilient & Diverse Organic Markets

In 2012, the Ontario organic market is worth at least $1 billion per year.  That was the size of the entire Canadian organic market in 2006!  Indeed at 38% of the national market, more organic food is sold in Ontario stores than any other province.  “We now have the data to support our gut feelings,” says Matt Lebeau,  Chair of the Organic Council of Ontario  and manager of LeBeau Advance Ltd., “interacting with organic farms and businesses in this sector every day,  you catch the buzz and the excitement –  but it’s good to have the numbers to back it up.”

The first in a series of readable factsheet-style reports focuses on the opportunities and challenges identified by the diverse stakeholders across Ontario’s organic value chains.  The reports draw on 6 different studies that were conducted throughout 2011 – 2012.  “Our research tried to characterize all the organic markets in the province from small producers selling through Community Supported Agriculture programs to large global grain handlers,” explains lead researcher,  Theresa Schumilas.

The first report notes that most stakeholders in Ontario’s organic sector expect continued growth in the market and only 9% feel the demand for organic food has peaked.  Across all business sizes, 72% of organic operators feel that organic markets are diversifying particularly through local (Ontario) distribution channels such as food hubs and buying clubs.  Further, 78% of stakeholders from right across the organic value chain feel that shoppers will increasingly pay fair prices for foods that are both local and organic.  “It’s great to see how optimistic the sector is,” notes Jodi Koberinski,  Executive Director  of the Organic Council of Ontario,  “but there are also challenges to address.”  The largest challenge ahead for the organic food system uncovered by the research is the consumer confusion about organic and ‘natural’ claims.  “The data seem clear that Ontario’s organic food system needs to face and respond to new market entrants who are making green and ethical claims,” notes Koberinski.

The report also teases apart differences across different scales of operators.  As Schumilas explains, “Size matters.  For example, smaller firms are the most enthusiastic about growth, but the cost of certification and lack of personal time curbs this enthusiasm.  In comparison the largest organic firms are the most cautious about growth but feel significantly impacted by legislation such as food labeling requirements.”

Significantly, the report finds that the historic separation between ‘artisanal’ or ‘direct to consumer’ channels and ‘mainstream’ or ‘wholesale’ markets seems to be blurring.  The largest producers in the sector are now seeing opportunities in local channels, while the smallest are pursuing sales to supermarkets and natural food stores.

“It all suggests a vibrant sector that continues to evolve,” notes LeBeau. “Understanding the different opportunities and challenges for small versus large producers, traders, processors and retailers can help the Organic Council of Ontario move forward on programs to advance all these interests.”

This first report, along with a series of others to follow,  are being released throughout Organic Week which runs from September 22-29.   The reports can be accessed here.

Key Contact:

Regarding this research –   Theresa Schumilas,  Lead Researcher.,  519 885 8775


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